April 24, 2012
John Edwards trial: Sex, lies and $1M
GREENSBORO, N.C. (UPI) -- Prosecutors say John Edwards knowingly broke U.S. campaign finance laws when he accepted nearly $1 million, but his lawyers say the donations weren't political.
Opening arguments in the much-anticipated trial involving a secret affair, a child born out of wedlock and a wife dying of breast cancer were to begin at U.S. District Court in Greensboro, N.C., Monday.
Edwards, 58, a former U.S. senator from North Carolina and the 2004 Democratic vice presidential nominee, is charged with six felony counts, four involving the alleged acceptance of $933,000 in illegal campaign contributions during his failed 2008 bid for the Democratic presidential nomination. He also faces charges of conspiracy and making false statements.
The government contends Edwards knowingly used the unreported payments from two wealthy campaign donors to pay the expenses of a mistress and to hide the extramarital affair with Rielle Hunter, and a daughter the couple conceived, from voters.
Hunter once made videos for Edwards' campaign.
The donors had already given the maximum allowed by law.
Edwards -- John Kerry's running mate in 2004 -- had a public campaign image of a devoted family man.
"The charges against John Edwards in this case flow from his knowing and willful violation of the federal campaign finance laws during his campaign for the Democratic Party's nomination for president,'' prosecutors alleged in court filings.
Edwards' defense team contends the money from benefactors Rachel "Bunny'' Mellon, a 101-year-old Virginia banking heiress, and the late Fred Baron, a Texas lawyer, was not political contributions but personal gifts intended only to keep his wife, Elizabeth Edwards, who was publicly struggling with cancer, from finding out about the continuation of the affair, which he had told her was over, and to hide that a child was involved.
Elizabeth Edwards died Dec. 7, 2010. She separated from John Edwards in January 2010.
Lawyers for John Edwards deny he initially knew about the money -- that it was all the work of former campaign aide Andrew Young, who wanted to protect Edwards and initially falsely claimed paternity of the baby girl to protect his married boss. Edwards at first denied he was the father.
Edwards' lawyers also argue that because gift taxes were paid on the money and it was not funneled through traditional campaign accounts, it was not a campaign contribution in any case.
Justice Department lawyers counter the money was actually used to try to influence the election. They say if the public found out about the affair and the child, Edwards' presidential bid would been ruined.
Edwards could face up to 30 years in prison and $1.5 million in fines.
Young is widely expected to be a key prosecution witness in the jury trial before Judge Catherine C. Eagles.
Young, as a key staff member in the Edwards campaign, later renounced the paternity claim and wrote in a tell-all book, "The Politician," Edwards knew all along he was the girl's father but pleaded with him to accept responsibility.
The defense argued in a trial brief the payments by Mellon and Baron covered Hunter's personal expenses "and, much more so, the Youngs' personal expenses, such as construction of their dream home, not Mr. Edwards' expenses.''