Edwards target of federal grand jury

posted at 3:40 pm on January 17, 2011 by Ed Morrissey

Last we heard in October, the Department of Justice had prepared a flurry of subpoenas to delve into the handling of campaign finances in John Edwards’ presidential run, with a specific eye towards the use of some funds to keep the Rielle Hunter scandal under wraps.  Today, the Associated Press reports that the grand jury has targeted Edwards in its probe, and not just Edwards.  Subpoenas have been issued for Alliance For a New America (AFNA) and linked organizations, where millions of dollars got spent with no public accounting:

A federal criminal investigation targeting John Edwards is examining how much the two-time presidential candidate knew about money used to cover up his extramarital affair and out-of-wedlock child and whether he had other practices that pushed the bounds of campaign finance laws, people involved in the case have told The Associated Press.

A federal grand jury meeting in Raleigh, N.C., is combing through records and testimony involving several political organizations and individuals connected to Edwards and trying to determine if the former North Carolina senator and 2004 vice presidential nominee broke any laws. A recently issued subpoena focuses on a web of these political groups allied with Edwards, according to subpoena details provided to AP that offer a glimpse into the investigation being conducted behind closed doors.

The situation gets murky indeed when looking at AFNA:

Atop the subpoena list, read to the AP by someone with access to a subpoena, is the Alliance for a New America, which is what is known as a political 527 group, named for the tax code section that governs it. Also on the list is a like-named private entity called Alliance for a New America LLC, or AFNA LLC, and Edwards’ former campaign manager Nick Baldick, who ran the political 527 group in support of Edwards’ bid for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination. (IRS records for the same groups refer to the groups as Alliance for New America, without an “a.”)

Baldick and his attorney Jim Lamb would not comment on the federal investigation, but Lamb said Baldick has been told he is not a target of it.

Federal records show that about $3.3 million of the $4.8 million raised by the 527 was distributed to AFNA LLC for unspecified “consulting services.” The 527 and the LLC shared not only their name, but the same Alexandria, Va., post office box and the same contact, a Baldick associate named Katherine Buchanan. A crucial difference between the two Alliance entities was that the LLC was a limited liability company that did not have to publicly disclose how its money was spent.

The question will be whether that distinction was legal on its face, or whether it was used as a dodge to funnel money illegally to Edwards for his own personal use.  If the grand jury can connect the expenditures on “consultants” to those who tried keeping the lid on Edwards’ relationship with Hunter, the legality of the edifice may be a moot point anyway.  Presumably, the grand jury and the investigators are looking for someone on the inside to testify to how the money got spent. If they do and the money got directed to hide Hunter and keep her quiet, then everyone involved may face conspiracy charges.

AFNA isn’t the only entity under scrutiny, either.  The One American Committee paid Hunter over $100,000 for campaign Internet videos that never got published.  They also want to see how massive contributions from Fred Baron and Bunny Mellon were distributed, the latter of which got hidden in boxes of chocolates according to former aide Andrew Young’s book with the express purpose of keeping Hunter quiet.  Baron claimed to have supported Hunter financially without Edwards’ knowledge, but Young’s book says that Edwards agreed to hit up Mellon for hush money, which the grand jury seems to think may be an interesting avenue of inquiry.

None of this means anything until the grand jury produces indictments, of course — but becoming a target of a grand jury is the one way that happens.


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