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John Edwards trial begins

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GREENSBORO, N.C. (AP) - A key prosecution witness in the criminal trial of former presidential candidate John Edwards contacted other witnesses in the case to ask about their planned testimony, a possible violation of federal law, a judge said Monday.

(Photo: Associated Press)

U.S. District Court Judge Catherine C. Eagles said that former Edwards aide Andrew Young called the three other witnesses in the last two weeks.

Eagles ruled that lawyers for Edwards could mention the improper contact to jurors in opening statements Monday, but barred them from using the term "witness tampering" or telling the jury that Young had a one-night stand with one of the other witnesses in 2007.

Young once falsely claimed paternity of the child Edwards fathered with his then-mistress Rielle Hunter in 2007.

The former aide is potentially the government's most important witness as prosecutors seek to prove the then-married Democratic candidate masterminded a scheme to use nearly $1 million provided by two wealthy campaign donors to help hide his pregnant mistress as he sought the White House in 2008.

Edwards, 58, has pleaded not guilty to six criminal counts related to alleged violations of federal campaign finance laws.

The former candidate sat silently in the courtroom Monday morning as the lead federal prosecutor called him a man who would say or do anything to get elected president, including violating the law to hide his affair and keep his campaign viable.

"It wasn't just a marriage on the line," prosecutor David Harbach said. "If the affair went public it would destroy his chance of becoming president, and he knew it. ...He made a choice to break the law."

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