Edwards indictment coming as soon as tomorrow?

So says CBS, and if not tomorrow than by the end of the week. The John Edwards defense team has ramped up its efforts to get a plea deal in place before the grand jury returns the indictment on corruption charges.  The DoJ is playing hardball, however, and apparently prosecutors want the indictment first:

The Justice Department reportedly is ready to file charges against former Sen. John Edwards for allegedly using campaign money to hide his mistress.

After a two-year investigation, federal prosecutors could charge Edwards this week – possibly as early as Wednesday – with violating federal campaign laws when he ran for president in 2008, reports CBS News correspondent Jan Crawford.

CBS also reports the curious meeting between Edwards and his political benefactor, Rachel “Bunny” Mellon, last week, confirming the earlier ABC report.  CBS provides more of an explanation for Edwards’ risking potential charges of witness tampering, explaining that it could be part of a defense strategy:

Crawford reported sources close to Edwards say there was nothing nefarious about their meeting.

Crawford explained, “(They say) she was one of his most loyal supporters. And so it was this lunch between two old friends. But, it also could play to Edwards’ legal strategy, and here’s why: Prosecutors say her money was used to support his campaign. And so, therefore, it was a campaign contribution and you can’t do that. But Edwards says, no, that’s not true. All that money, which they call the ‘Bunny money’ … was a gift from a friend. If he wasn’t running for president, she would have given him that money anyway. That is his defense. And (Edwards’ defense) says that lunch supports that. He’s not running now and they’re still getting together.”

Er, good luck with that argument.  Unless Mellon had a habit of giving Edwards $1 million in small, unmarked bills when he wasn’t running for public office, a luncheon date isn’t going to get Edwards off the hook.

Edwards’ argument is dangerous in another way.  If he turns the “gift” theory into a positive defense, then no politician will ever take a contribution again.  Instead, everyone will get “gifts” which can then be spent in defiance of every campaign finance law ever written.  It would completely undermine the FEC and any sort of legal structure for the restriction of both contributions and expenditures — an interesting position for a candidate who thought McCain-Feingold didn’t go far enough and wanted publicly-financed election campaigns shortly before he ran for President the second time.   The judge would either bar that argument, or create jury instructions that explicitly stated that politicians can’t get around campaign-finance laws by claiming that money given him was a “gift.”

The claim would be clever, at least in one respect.  Tax laws in 2007 and 2008 allowed for tax exclusions for gifts up to … one million dollars, the amount noted in the CBS report.  However, at that amount, the giver has to file tax documentation of the gift, unless given to a political organization, which would have strict regulations on its use.  Edwards’ defense, if made in court, could get Mellon into some hot water with the IRS, and prosecutors might become very interested in subpoenaing her records to refute Edwards’ claim.

That’s a pretty slender reed to which Edwards seems to be clinging.