Eight years ago, he ran on the Democratic ticket for the second-highest political office in the country. Four years ago, he vied for the nomination in a tough three-way race between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. Today, John Edwards begins another battle — to stay out of federal prison. Edwards faces up to 30 years in prison on six felony and misdemeanor charges related to campaign-finance fraud and the cover-up of his affair with Rielle Hunter and their child together:
Among other things, the government alleges that Edwards “knowingly and willfully” received nearly $1 million in illegal campaign contributions to hide his pregnant mistress from the public so he could continue his presidential bid. Edwards acknowledges that while his actions were wrong, they were not illegal. He could face up to 30 years in prison. …
At the heart of the government’s case is campaign finance law, specifically whether Edwards violated the Election Act. Established in 1971, the Election Act states that to restrict the influence that any one person can have on the outcome of a primary election for president, the most any individual could contribute to any candidate for that primary election is $2,300.
Prosecutors will argue that Edwards accepted and received contributions from Mellon and Baron in excess of the limits of the Election Act. Court documents detail that Edwards accepted about $725,000 from Mellon and more than $200,000 from Baron. These unlawful contributions were then used to pay for Hunter’s living and medical expenses and to pay for travel and accommodations to keep Hunter from the news media.
Additionally, prosecutors say Edwards concealed from the FEC and the public the contributions by filing false and misleading campaign finance reports.
Court documents conclude, “Edwards knew that public revelation of the affair and pregnancy would destroy his candidacy and undermine Edwards’ presentation of himself as a family man and by forcing his campaign to divert personnel and resources away from other campaign activities to respond to the criticism and the media scrutiny regarding the affair.”
His defense, CNN reports, will rely on hiding behind the skirts of his now-dead wife Elizabeth. Edwards will claim that the money from Mellon and Baron was intended to protect Elizabeth, not himself, as well as the rest of his family. Good luck selling that to a jury. Edwards will also claim that he didn’t know that he was breaking the law and never intended to do so, a claim that tests the credibility of every defendant — and one would presume especially those who also happen to be multi-millionaire trial attorneys.
Politico handicaps the trial with six key points to watch. The first is connections to the “Obama world,” and at least one high-ranking official from the Obama 2012 campaign is expected to testify in defense of Edwards:
A deputy campaign manager for Obama’s reelection bid, Julianna Smoot, is listed as a defense witness. Smoot spent most of last year as White House social secretary before going to the campaign. She was finance director on Edwards’s 1998 Senate bid and on Obama’s presidential campaign in 2008.
While not every listed witness may be called, other administration officials on the roster include Mark Kornblau, communications director for the U.S. Mission to the United Nations in New York and traveling press secretary for Edwards’s 2008 campaign; Sam Myers Sr., trip director for Vice President Joe Biden and an advance staffer for Edwards; and Sam Myers Jr., an Education Department aide who also worked advance for Edwards in ’08.
Former Obama White House aides David Medina and Christina Reynolds are also on the list.
That’s not exactly the kind of buzz an incumbent needs, especially one who campaigned on the promise to end corruption in Washington. Thanks to the high profile of the defendant and the salacious nature of the circumstances, the media will be all over this trial, with updates and analysis. That will not only reflect poorly on Democrats in general, it’s likely to distract from Team Obama’s efforts to win the daily narrative in the media.
Politico also warns that the outcome might be “less than clear.” Given the intricate nature of the campaign finance laws in question, it’s a good bet that Edwards might beat a few of the counts. He’d better hope that the judge tosses the counts rather than rely on the jury to acquit, though, because the circumstances of the affair won’t make Edwards terribly sympathetic to any panel of jurors.