been saying since 2000, when John Edwards had been in the Senate for under two years, that there was something wrong with the man. I’ve described him many times as soulless, unreal, and laughably fake. His behavior regarding his adulterous affair with Rielle Hunter, and particularly his lie on national TV when he admitted the affair but denied the child was his, a lie that everyone knew was a lie even as Edwards was making it and would soon be exposed as a lie, showed him to be a profoundly disturbed human being who nevertheless had come close to being elected vice president of the U.S. in 2004.
Having said all that, I think the federal indictment against Edwards is wrong and absurd. He raised $900,000 from two wealthy supporters to help conceal the affair and the child. The federal prosecutors claim that such concealment was for the benefit of his 2008 presidential campaign, and therefore was in violation of federal campaign laws because the two donations exceeded the $2,300 limit. Edwards says the concealment was for personal reasons. Obviously, whether Edwards had been running for president or not, as a married man and a public man he would have wanted to conceal the affair and the child. If he had wealthy friends who were willing to help him do that, there is nothing illegal about that. His supposed criminality lies solely in the claim that the concealment of the child was for the purpose of his presidential campaign. I repeat: he would have wanted to conceal the child even if he had not been running for president. His presidential candidacy is therefore adventitious to what he did, and the criminal charge is wrong. It rests on such obviously strained premises that it should not have gone forward. Evidently Edwards believes the same, which is why he chose not to plea bargain and thinks he can win at trial.
When there are so many real crimes being committed in this country, for federal prosecutors to have spent years investigating this non-case exemplifies the out of control prosecutorial mentality that drove the indictment of Lewis Libby, and before that, the indictment of Martha Stewart.
June 3, 2011
Edwards Charged With Election Finance Fraud
By KATHARINE Q. SEELYE
John Edwards, the former Democratic senator from North Carolina and nominee for vice president in 2004, was once one of his party’s most promising young stars. But on Friday he found himself in a stunning fall from grace—in a courtroom in North Carolina, being read his rights.
Earlier in the day, a federal grand jury indicted him on charges that he violated federal campaign finance laws by “secretly obtaining and using” contributions from wealthy benefactors to conceal his mistress and their baby while he was running for president in 2008.
He pleaded not guilty to the charges and set the stage for a trial that will most likely dredge up embarrassing details of his affair and his betrayal of his wife and those who believed in his campaign. But Mr. Edwards, a skilled trial lawyer, had rejected a chance to avoid a trial through a plea bargain, opting instead to take his chances in front of a jury.
“I will regret for the rest of my life the pain and the harm that I’ve caused to others,” Mr. Edwards told reporters outside the courthouse in Winston-Salem afterward. “But I did not break the law. And I never, ever thought that I was breaking the law.”
The trial was scheduled to begin July 11 in Winston-Salem, but lawyers involved said they expected it would start much later.
The grand jury, which has been investigating the case for two years, indicted Mr. Edwards on six counts—one involving conspiracy, four involving illegal payments and one involving false statements. If he is found guilty, Mr. Edwards, 57, faces a maximum penalty of 30 years in prison and $1.5 million in fines.
Mr. Edwards’s wife, Elizabeth, died of cancer in December. The couple had two young children and an older daughter, Cate, a lawyer, who accompanied Mr. Edwards to court. Mr. Edwards was released without having to post bail, but was ordered to turn in his passport and to avoid talking with potential witnesses.
The indictment contends that Mr. Edwards and his co-conspirators solicited $725,000 from Rachel Mellon, the 100-year-old heiress to the Mellon banking fortune, and $200,000 from Fred Baron, Mr. Edwards’s campaign finance chairman.
The money, the indictment said, was used to cover up his affair with Rielle Hunter, a campaign videographer with whom he had a child, and to pay for her prenatal medical expenses, travel and accommodations.
The fact that Mr. Edwards tried to cover up his affair is not at issue. The Justice Department says that those contributions from two wealthy patrons were campaign donations and therefore subject to federal campaign finance laws that set limits on the amounts that can be donated and received, and require public reporting. Those two donations were well in excess of the limit of $2,300 that an individual can give.
The indictment says the money was actually used for campaign purposes: If the public knew that he was having an affair, his campaign would have been over. (It was over anyway in January 2008, before he confessed to the affair in August, after he lost too many primaries to Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton. But it might have imploded even earlier if the affair had been known.)
“Mr. Edwards is alleged to have accepted more than $900,000 in an effort to conceal from the public facts that he believed would harm his candidacy,” Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer said in a statement. “As this indictment shows, we will not permit candidates for high office to abuse their special ability to access the coffers of their political supporters to circumvent our election laws.”
The Edwards defense is that the money was used not for political reasons but for personal reasons: he wanted to conceal the affair from his wife.
The Edwards legal team, headed by Gregory B. Craig, who defended President Bill Clinton during his impeachment proceedings, says the government is trying an untested theory and applying a too-broad definition of campaign contributions.
Their decision to fight the charges reflects their view that the government’s case will not hold up in court. It also reflects the feeling by Mr. Edwards that no matter how much he has disgraced himself—by lying to his wife and the country about the affair, which wrecked his marriage and ended his political career—he does not want to be seen as a felon or lose his law license.
The defense team has already retained Scott E. Thomas, a former chairman of the Federal Election Commission, as an expert witness. In a statement, Mr. Thomas said the government was basing its case on a “novel and misguided theory” that had no precedent. He said he would not consider the payments in question to be campaign contributions or expenditures within the meaning of the campaign finance laws.
But the Justice Department said that the contribution limit “applies to anything of value provided for the purpose of influencing a federal election,” including contributions, expenditures and “payments for personal expenses of a candidate unless those payments would have been made irrespective of his/her candidacy.”
The indictment included the transcript of a note that Mrs. Mellon sent to Andrew Young, a former aide to Mr. Edwards, in May 2007—about the time that Mr. Edwards and Mr. Young were looking for ways to raise money to conceal the affair.
Mrs. Mellon said she had been “sitting alone in a grim mood—furious that the press attacked Senator Edwards on the price of a haircut. But it inspired me—from now on, all haircuts, etc., that are necessary and important for his campaign—please send the bills to me … It is a way to help our friend without government restrictions.”
The money from his patrons, which was delivered through checks made out to a third party—one was stashed in a box of chocolates—paid for Ms. Hunter to live in various hotels and in gated communities in North Carolina and California. She was often in the company of Mr. Young, who claimed paternity of the child to protect Mr. Edwards.
While some legal experts questioned the validity of the government’s case, saying it was applying an overly broad definition of campaign contributions, others say it is important that candidates take campaign finance law seriously.
“The alleged payments of ‘hush money’ raise the specter of political influence-peddling in the form of ‘gifts’ to candidates in high-stakes campaigns,” said Meredith McGehee, policy director for the Campaign Legal Center. Not to pursue them, she said, would set a dangerous precedent.
David B. writes: