A changed view of the John Edwards trial

I have previously strongly criticized the prosecution of John Edwards for federal campaign finance law violations. I said that he had raised the contested money in order to hide his mistress and their child, not in order to fund his presidential campaign, and that it was frightening prosecutorial overreach to claim that that the former was part of the latter and to try to send Edwards to prison over it.

However, Walter Shapiro, writing at The New Republic, who also used to think the Edwards prosecution was wrong, has changed his mind. Here’s why:

Count Two in the indictment is much more straightforward—and, based on my reporting, potentially more hazardous for Edwards. This charge centers on the allegation that the candidate and his aide Andrew Young solicited and received $725,000 from nonagenarian philanthropist Bunny Mellon in 2007 and 2008, money that was used to cover up Edwards’ affair. The charge here is a technical one: That these contributions exceeded the legal limit of $25,000 in aggregate campaign contributions per election cycle.

Up to now, all the pre-trail coverage has assumed that Mellon … was intent on helping Edwards cover up his philandering. But what the prosecution will argue—and you will have to trust me on the sourcing for this—is that the then-97-year-old socialite was as ignorant of the existence of Rielle Hunter (or any other Other Woman) as any Democratic voter besotted with John Edwards. When she was asked for the money, delivered in seven installments beginning June 2007, she thought that she was donating in some round-robin fashion to the Edwards campaign, not covering up an affair.

This new information changes everything. If Edwards told Mellon that the $725,000 he was requesting from her was for his presidential campaign, but it was really for concealing the existence of his mistress and child, then it would appear that he was raising the money (fraudulently) as campaign money, and it would come under the campaign financing laws. So there is a good chance Edwards will go to prison. From son of a working man in a Southern mill town, to millionaire trial lawyer, to U.S. senator, to presidential candidate, to Democratic vice presidential nominee, to precipitous extinction and ruin, Edwards is yet another Great Gatsby, a type America produces with the frequency of robins laying eggs in spring. Indeed, the Gatsby parallel is so close that Edwards, notwithstanding his appearance of cold, ruthless ambition, shared Jay Gatsby’s small-town naivité about the nature of the forces he was dealing with.

- end of initial entry -

Bill A. writes:

The Los Angeles Times reported in 2011:

In an interview last year, Young said Baron provided hundreds of thousands of dollars and loaned his Aspen, Colo., estate to the Youngs and Hunter. Mellon provided about $700,000. Young said he and Edwards called her contributions “Bunny money.”

According to Mellon’s attorney, she gave the money to Edwards as a personal gift and filed a gift tax return.

She intended it for his personal use and had no understanding of what his need was and where the money would go,” her attorney, Alexander Forger, told the Associated Press in January 2010.

Whether the money was a campaign contribution or not remains to be proven. And whether Mrs. Mellon knew what the money was being used for will need to be proven, too. It is a shame to bring an elderly lady like this into such a trial, but then of course, she may have brought it on herself.

LA replies:

So according to the 2011 L.A. Times story, Bunny Mellon gave him the money—and believed she was giving him the money—as a personal gift. Which is the opposite of what Walter Shapiro reports from his legal sources, that Bunny believed she was giving him the money as a campaign contribution and didn’t know he was using it for personal purposes. I imagine this is the main issue on which his guilt or innocence will be decided.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at April 23, 2012 08:11 AM | Send

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