As expected, the Department of Justice landed with both feet on former Senator and one-time Democratic nominee for Vice President John Edwards today.  The DoJ released a grand jury indictment on six counts — four of illegal campaign contributions, and one each of conspiracy and making false statements to the FEC:

John Edwards, a two-time candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination and a former U.S. senator from North Carolina, was indicted today on charges of conspiracy and false statements.

The indictment is the culmination of a secretive federal probe that has been going on for more than two years.

The investigation has centered on allegations that donations to Edwards were used to support Rielle Hunter, his former mistress and mother of his now-3-year-old daughter.

“Secretive”?  Who didn’t know about the grand jury probe into Edwards and his attempts to hide Hunter’s relationship with him?  The media have been reporting it for months.  If the News Observer thinks that there is anything unusually “secretive” about the Edwards probe, the reporters and editors should spend more time studying the grand jury system, which traditionally conducts its business in camera.

Nevertheless, the “secretive” phase is over, and this will get a lot more public, thanks to the serious nature of the indictment.  The false-statements charge would almost certainly result in disbarment, even if Edwards escaped convictions on the other counts.  However, it relies on counts 2-5 of the indictment, which detail four different cash transactions that went unreported as campaign contributions.  Edwards didn’t run the cash through his campaign (which would have had to reject them as exceeding campaign-contribution limits), and so knowingly caused his campaign to file false reports with the FEC.  An attorney accused of such a crime will almost always have to surrender his law license, at least for some period of time, if not permanently.

The conspiracy count will be the most damaging, however.  The indictment charges that Edwards himself ran the conspiracy to take illegal contributions and convert them to his personal use.  It started in May 2007, when Edwards allegedly held a meeting with “Person A” (which seems to be Andrew Young, his former aide, but that’s obviously not explicitly stated) that “discussed identifying individuals who could provide money to support Person B.”  Person B is definitely Rielle Hunter, who informed him in this general time frame that she was pregnant with his child, according to the indictment.

Moreover, Person C — one of the donors — sent a note to Person A the previous month, expressing indignation over the media reports of Edwards’ haircuts.  “[P]lease send the bills to me,” the note read, “It is a way to help our friend without government restrictions.”  That indicates a positive, overt conspiratorial act by Person C, which might explain Person C’s apparent cooperation in the probe.  It was also discussed in the May 2007 meeting that allegedly resulted in the conspiracy to evade campaign finance regulations.

This explains why the DoJ wasn’t keen on cutting a deal with Edwards before the release of the indictment.  They’re probably not keen on doing a deal at all, not one that leaves Edwards as a working lawyer, and probably not one that doesn’t put Edwards behind bars at a Club Fed resort for at least a few months.  Now that the indictment has been released, the DoJ won’t have a lot of room to maneuver, not if they want to enforce campaign-finance laws in the future.  Edwards is in deep trouble.