Local Politics

Which liar will Edwards jurors believe?

Posted May 17, 2012

John Edwards heads into the federal courthouse in Greensboro on May 17, 2012, to hear closing arguments in his criminal trial.

— John Edwards committed many sins but didn't break the law in covering up his affair and illegitimate child, the lead lawyer for the two-time presidential candidate said Thursday in his closing argument.

Defense attorney Abbe Lowell pointed out to jurors that the Bible and the book containing federal statutes don't sit side by side in the courtroom because they hold people to different standards.

"This is a case that should define the difference between someone committing a wrong and committing a crime ... between committing sins and a felony," Lowell said.

Edwards is charged with devising a plan to use almost $1 million from two wealthy donors to hide his pregnant mistress, Rielle Hunter, as he ran for the White House in 2008. He faces up to 30 years in prison if convicted on all six charges.

Jurors are expected to begin deliberating his fate Friday morning.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Higdon led jurors on Thursday morning through the odyssey that wound up in front of them in federal court, calling the affair the "seeds of destruction" for Edwards and noting that the resulting weeds eventually "choked his campaign."

John Edwards case graphic WRAL.com archive: John Edwards case

Higdon recapped for jurors how former Edwards aide Andrew Young helped hide the affair for a long time and how Virginia heiress Rachel "Bunny" Mellon and Texas trial lawyer Fred Baron were eventually recruited to send money to Young for Hunter's personal expenses and medical care.

"It was one thing to hide an affair. It was something altogether different to hide a pregnancy and a child," he said in his closing argument.

Mellon was a fervent supporter of Edwards – Higdon said her desire for Edwards to be president was exceeded only by the candidate himself – and Baron was a long-time friend who believed having a fellow trial lawyer in a position of power in Washington, D.C., would be helpful, according to the prosecution.

"(Mellon) wanted John Edwards to be elected president, and she was willing to work around those pesky government restrictions to make it happen," Higdon said, referring to the limits on campaign contributions. "Clearly, Mr. Baron, like Mrs. Mellon, was willing to do whatever it took."

Lowell countered by arguing that the payments weren't campaign contributions, only personal gifts to help Edwards hide his ongoing affair from his cancer-stricken wife, who had exploded in a rage when she first learned of his infidelity.

"John Edwards has and always had the means to pay for Rielle Hunter's expenses," he said. "(This money) was not for the purposes of getting around campaign laws. It was for getting around Mrs. Edwards."

Sketch of closing arguments in Edwards trial Edwards' fate now in jury's hands

Edwards told Young that he had consulted campaign finance experts who had assured him that the money was legal, Lowell said. A former Federal Elections Commission chairman also testified that the agency never contemplated third-party payments designed to hide an affair to be campaign contributions.

Because Edwards believed the payments were legal, Lowell said, jurors cannot find him guilty of knowingly breaking the law.

The defense also pointed the finger at Young, painting him as the mastermind of the scheme, which Lowell said was solely to allow the Youngs to build an upscale home, take trips to resorts and live beyond their means.

Citing the prosecution's claim in their opening statement four weeks ago that Edwards would repeatedly "deny, deceive and manipulate" to keep both his affair and his campaign going, Lowell said the former U.S. senator did it only to protect his family.

"The Youngs deny, deceive and manipulate for money and to live a lifestyle they didn't earn," he said, noting that they "blew through" $1 million in little more than a year.

David Harbach, a U.S. Department of Justice attorney prosecuting the case, scoffed at the notion that Young concocted the cover-up.

"This notion that Mr. Young was in charge and Mr. Edwards was only along for the ride, doesn't that seem a little backward to you?" Harbach asked jurors in his rebuttal to Lowell's argument. "Andrew Young did all this? Andrew Young? That's nonsense."

Lowell highlighted inconsistencies in Young's testimony and the lies that he had already admitted telling. Jurors should be wary of believing anything he said, the attorney argued.

"He just lied over and over again, and it didn't matter if it was big or small," Lowell said. "There's nothing he won't lie about – nothing."

Harbach responded by telling jurors to remember who's on trial and noting that Edwards picked Young for the scheme.

"This is the perfect fall guy," he said of Young. "He's not that smart. The people on the campaign don't like him, and most important, nobody's going to take this guy's word."

Higdon told jurors that federal campaign laws exist to level the playing field between the rich and powerful and the lowly and vulnerable – the two Americas that Edwards always railed against on the campaign trail.

Edwards had been burned once before by the laws, when he was publicly ridiculed for spending $400 in campaign money on a haircut, Higdon said. So, he was ready to break the rules when it came to keeping his affair secret.

"John Edwards forgot his own rhetoric," the prosecutor said. "He had no problem dividing the two Americas when it served his own purposes."


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  • Supie May 18, 2012

    bottom line, the people who funded Edwards would not have given him $$ if he was not a candidate, common sense imho says he did use $$ intended for his campaign to pay for his sins. I hope this is illegal and he is found guilty.

  • nobama May 18, 2012

    This case reminds me of the Obama case. He either lied in 1991 and said he was born in Keyna, or he is lying now about being born in the US. Either way he lied at some point.

  • patrick85ed May 18, 2012

    I thought ignorance of the law was not a valid excuse in court?

  • censorbait May 18, 2012

    Fred Baron, with a trial lawyer mentality, did not mind a bit supplying cover up money for a possible president. He knew full well that he would "have something on him" and would have more power as a result than anyone else in the country.

  • scarlett2 May 18, 2012

    The money was donated to further Edwards political career namely his presidential bid. It was done only for that reason. Bunny Mellon and that self serving big time trial lawyer would not have given Edwards one red cent were he not running for president. Edwards knew exactly what was going on. It should be a slam dunk guilty verdict but don't ever underestimate the stupidity of a group of jurors.
    May 18, 2012 9:29 a.m.

    I agree with you. People contribute large sums of money when there is something in it for them to gain. They gave him money because they wanted him to be president, not to cover up an affair. Adultery in politicians' lives is nothing new.
    If I walked up to these contributors and said hey, I'm having an adulterous affair, I need money to cover it up, how about a million dollars, they would have me arrested on the spot for extortion, as some crazy lunatic harassing them. Yet the jurors won't be smart enough to figure this out. They will let him off.

  • censorbait May 18, 2012

    The money was donated to further Edwards political career namely his presidential bid. It was done only for that reason. Bunny Mellon and that self serving big time trial lawyer would not have given Edwards one red cent were he not running for president. Edwards knew exactly what was going on. It should be a slam dunk guilty verdict but don't ever underestimate the stupidity of a group of jurors.

  • christinebbd May 18, 2012

    ss3510, I shared my "NC experience" in 2 previous posts. Don't know if the moderator will approve them....

    I think it may be you who is dreaming. The political scandals in this state during the last 12 years is mind boggling.

  • christinebbd May 18, 2012

    Ruffin Poole, (D) aid to Mike Easley, pleaded guilty to one count of income tax evasion exactly two weeks before his federal trial on 57 corruption-related counts re: Cannonsgate.
    R.C. Soles, (D) hypocrite armed with a firearm who defends himself after a career of gun control advocacy. So Senator, is your life worth more than We, The Peasants?
    John Edwards (D) (need I say more?)
    Jay Parmley (D) - top admin of the North Carolina Democratic Party resigned over a sexual harassment scandal(2012)

    Last but not least, The 2010 State Bureau of Investigation scandal brought down the Democrat controlled House & Senate, already riddled with incompetency and corruption in divisions and departments stretching across the spectrum: paroles, the board of elections, mental health, Highway Patrol, the Department of Transportation, Alcoholic Beverage Control, even the School for the Deaf

    Tony Rand (D) and Marc Basnight (D) saw the writing on the wall and jumped ship before the voters got the chance to

  • christinebbd May 18, 2012

    Political scandals in NC:

    Rep. James C. Green (D) Convicted of tax evasion
    Governor Mike Easley (D) involved in several scandals including lavish living and travel irregularities. He plead guilty to one count of campaign fraud and was fined $1000. (2009)
    Commissioner of Agriculture Meg Scott Phipps (D) pleaded guilty to campaign finance charges and served three years in prison. (2003)
    Representative James B. Black (D) pleaded guilty to a federal charge of public corruption on February 15, 2007, and was sentenced to five years in prison.
    Representative Michael Decker (D) was bribed by James B. Black (D) to switch parties and vote for Black. He pleaded guilty to conspiracy and was sentenced to four years in prison. 2007
    State Senator Frank W. Ballance (D) was sentenced to four years in prison for corruption. (2004)
    three associates including the Campaign Finance Director of Governor Bev Perdue (D) have been indicted for obstructing justice.

  • sillywabbitthepatriot May 18, 2012

    What ever the outcome, I hope John Edwards finds a hole and crawls in it.