Local Politics

Edwards' campaign finance trial opens Monday

Posted April 22, 2012

— More than four years after John Edwards halted his presidential bid in a hurricane-ravaged New Orleans neighborhood, the wreckage of his campaign pulls into a Greensboro courtroom on Monday for its final stop.

Prosecutors and defense attorneys are expected to give their opening statements in Edwards' trial on six charges that he violated campaign finance regulations when wealthy donors provided nearly $1 million to hide Rielle Hunter, his pregnant mistress, during the 2008 run for the White House.

The former U.S. senator from North Carolina has pleaded not guilty to the charges, which were handed up last June by a grand jury after a two-year investigation.

The late Texas lawyer Fred Baron, who was Edwards' national campaign finance chairman, and campaign donor Rachel "Bunny" Mellon, an heiress and socialite who is now 101 years old, provided the money for Hunter's medical care and to pay for flights and accommodations for her during the campaign. Both had already given Edwards' campaign the maximum $2,300 individual contribution allowed by federal law.

Edwards denies having known about the money, so prosecutors will try to prove he sought and directed the payments to cover up his affair, protect his public image as a "family man" and keep his presidential hopes viable.

The trial is expected to last six weeks and feature a mix of sex, money, politics and power usually only seen in movies or on television. The case has such a high profile that it took U.S. District Judge Catherine Eagles five days to find a pool of potential jurors that she deemed fair and impartial.

The government's star witness will be Andrew Young, who was such a close confidant to Edwards during the 2008 campaign that he claimed paternity of Hunter's daughter and helped shield her from the media to protect Edwards' image and the campaign.

Following years of adamant public denials, Edwards acknowledged in 2010 that he had fathered Hunter's daughter.

Young later wrote a tell-all book about Edwards' affair and failed campaign, "The Politician."

Other former members of Edwards' campaign staff, Baron's widow and an interior decorator who helped funnel money from Mellon to Young also could testify for the government.

Prosecutors gave Hunter legal immunity for her testimony, as long as she's truthful, and Edwards' defense team also has her listed as a potential witness.

Edwards' lawyers have argued that the money for Hunter was personal gifts and not contributions to his campaign. Two former members of the Federal Election Commission support that contention, but it's unclear whether Eagles will allow their testimony. Prosecutors maintain witnesses aren't allowed to interpret the law for jurors.

The trial was scheduled to begin in January, but Eagles postponed it because Edwards was suffering from an irregular heartbeat at the time and needed to undergo a medical procedure.

Edwards showed no signs of ill health as he attended every day of jury selection in the past two weeks. His parents and elder daughter Cate accompanied him to the federal courthouse every day, quietly sitting behind him in the courtroom.

Cate Edwards is listed as a possible witness for the defense.

If convicted, Edwards faces a maximum penalty of 30 years in prison and up to $1.5 million in fines.

72 Comments

This story is closed for comments.

Oldest First
View all
  • KnoxOverstreet III Apr 24, 6:15 p.m.

    "Thermometers also have degrees. that does not make them intelligent, does it? what matters is what one goes into collage with and what one graduates with. It does not take a rocket scientist to drudge on collage four four years.

    As far as "Rambling Wreck goes I am reminded of Georgia Tech and a oldie song. Is there something more I am missing?
    piene2"

    Sadly that's all too true. Just having a degree doesn't mean a lot without the innate intelligence to go with it. I think that may well explain the high percentage of collage grads that can't find decent jobs.

  • piene2 Apr 24, 3:45 p.m.

    Thermometers also have degrees. that does not make them intelligent, does it? what matters is what one goes into collage with and what one graduates with. It does not take a rocket scientist to drudge on collage four four years.

    As far as "Rambling Wreck goes I am reminded of Georgia Tech and a oldie song. Is there something more I am missing?

  • warbirdlover Apr 23, 1:51 p.m.

    Us true patriotic Americans do not try to get out of Jury Duty. It is your civic responsibility to serve on Juries. As far as not being smart enough. I will put my degree against yours any day. Does Ramblin Wreck me anything to you?

  • MadMaxx Apr 23, 1:35 p.m.

    he is getting dun wrong, jus because he tried to help poor folk! just more example of holding us down! OBAMA will fix this!
    OBAMAin12

    Lets get this straight, he was "dun" wrong, by who the 100 year old lady giving him money to hide and lie?, the woman he had an affair and a child out of wedlock?, seems everyone in your opinion is a professional victim. You can tell by the comments as to who the entitlement receivers are making comments.

    Get real, once the population that is receiving the entitlements go past the 65-35% of the ones who are paying for it, this country will be in for awake up call.

    A lying lawyer, cheated on his wife who was dying of cancer, trying to cover his tracks and throw out distractions to make himself look innocent. Good luck there Democrats, this is your party, BE PROUD!

  • tiblet Apr 23, 1:19 p.m.

    If convicted, Edwards faces a maximum penalty of 30 years in prison and up to $1.5 million in fines.

    He certainly could end up doing some time...Meg Scott Phipps went to prison for her crimes and they were on a smaller scale. Agree, that John Edwards has already shown us he is a liar...no one can dispute that. It defies logic to think he did not know what was going on...

  • piene2 Apr 23, 1:14 p.m.

    "I bet he's just ticked off because he hasn't been able to figure out how to get out of jury duty.
    KnoxOverstreet III"

    Maybe I should hold seminars on how to get out of jury duty for those who can not figure out how to do it? I wonder how much I could charge.

  • sunshine1040 Apr 23, 1:12 p.m.

    Get a fair trial in NC right. If the jury is all Democrat he will be innocent if it is made up of men or women that believe that having affairs is the way to go innocent. if babtist that believe vows taken to be faithful should be taken seriously and you should not lie to the public or your wife then he is uilty because theis trial is about hush money

  • davido Apr 23, 12:45 p.m.

    "[will] feature a mix of sex, money, politics and power usually only seen in movies or on television."

    Yes, I think if I saw this on a made-for-TV movie I would think it was too exaggerated to be realistic. I mean, knocked up the videographer, tried to deny paternity, AND had a sex tape? Nope, too farfetched of a plotline.

  • KnoxOverstreet III Apr 23, 12:44 p.m.

    "This coming from the brilliant mind of a person who wont serve on a jury... I Carry even in Cary"
    That is right:)
    piene2"

    I bet he's just ticked off because he hasn't been able to figure out how to get out of jury duty.

  • charmcclainlovesdogs2 Apr 23, 12:44 p.m.

    PEOPLE ON THIS JURY JUST WANT TO SIT AND LISTEN TO LIES.

    In the court of law, John Edwards do have a right to a jury and to a fair trial. Allow the courts to do their job in the right way.

More...