WRAL Investigates

John Edwards: 'I did not break the law'

Posted June 3, 2011
Updated June 4, 2011

— John Edwards, a two-time Democratic presidential candidate and former U.S. Senator from North Carolina, emerged from a Winston-Salem courthouse Friday afternoon with his eldest daughter by his side to proclaim that he is innocent of the federal charges against him.

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

He pleaded not guilty to four counts of illegal campaign contributions and charges of conspiracy and false statements. 

The indictment follows a high-profile investigation that lasted more than two years into whether Edwards' 2008 campaign used more than $900,000 in campaign contributions to cover up his affair with staffer Rielle Hunter and the pregnancy and birth of their daughter, Quinn.

"There’s no question that I've done wrong, and I take full responsibility for having done wrong," Edwards said Friday. "And I will regret for the rest of my life the pain and the harm that I’ve caused to others, but I did not break the law, and I never, ever thought I was breaking the law."

John Edwards Edwards: 'I did not break the law'

Edwards, 58, made the short but emphatic statement to a crowd of reporters and photographers outside the courthouse with his daughter, Cate Edwards, by his side.

He is scheduled to appear in court in Greensboro on July 5 for a motions hearing, and his trial is scheduled to begin on July 11, according to a court scheduling order. Edwards was released Friday without bond, but on condition that he have no contact with Rachel "Bunny" Mellon, the campaign donor whose money prosecutors allege Edwards used to cover up his affair and protect his presidential ambitions.

If convicted on all counts, Edwards faces a maximum of 30 years in prison and $1.5 million in fines. However, he would probably be sentenced to about five years in prison since he doesn't have a criminal record, according to Kieran Shanahan, a Raleigh lawyer and former federal prosecutor.

Edwards' Washington, D.C.-based attorney, Greg Craig, made a brief statement to the media earlier Friday, calling the case "unprecedented."

"No one has ever been charged with the claims brought against Sen. Edwards," he said.

Craig has asserted that Edwards didn't break any laws and that the government was chasing a misguided prosecution.

U.S. Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer released a statement Friday saying he "will not permit candidates for high office to abuse their special ability to access the coffers of their political supporters to circumvent our election laws."

The federal investigation zeroed in on money from Mellon, a 100-year-old heiress to pharmaceutical and banking fortunes and a major donor to Edwards' campaign, and from his former campaign finance chairman, Fred Baron, who died from cancer in 2008.

Edwards saw Mellon as recently as last week and is now ordered to have no contact with her.

Mellon gave $3.4 million in late 2007 to The Alliance for a New America, a nonprofit supporting Edwards' candidacy. Former Edwards aide Andrew Young wrote last year in his tell-all book that Mellon also gave Edwards $725,000 as a gift for personal use.

Andrew Young Former advisor's book shined light inside Edwards' campaign

Young told WRAL News in a 2010 interview that Mellon was in the dark about how her money was being used. He said campaign workers commonly referred to the checks she wrote as "Bunny money."

The indictment released Friday showed that Mellon wrote a note to Young in 2007, which showed her willingness to help Edwards as he took heat over a $400 haircut.

"I was sitting alone in a grim mood – furious that the press attacked Senator Edwards on the price of a haircut. But it inspired me – from now on, all haircuts, etc., that are necessary and important for his campaign – please send the bills to me.... It is  a way to help our friend without government restrictions," she wrote.

Memo from Mellon key to Edwards' case Memo from Mellon key to Edwards' case

Former federal prosecutor Dan Boyce said the final line of the memo sets up the government's case for conspiracy. "That one sentence sets up a case to say he or people in his campaign were looking for ways to circumvent the federal elections system."

The heart of the indictment against Edwards is the allegation that he worked with others to hide his affair and child with Hunter.

"The conspiracy count is called the little darling of prosecutors, because all they have to prove is there there was an agreement to do some illegal act and then there's one overt act in furtherance of the conspiracy," Boyce said.

Boyce called the statements attributed to witnesses and to Edwards in the indictment "pretty alarming."

According to Young, Baron financed flights and paid $20,000 a month in rent on a California home for shared by Hunter and Young's family during the period when Young pretended to be the father of Hunter's baby to protect Edwards from negative publicity.

Young also told WRAL News that Baron paid him $325,000 to finish his own home back in Chapel Hill so it could be sold when he moved to California.

Baron's widow appeared before the federal grand jury in Raleigh in January. Investigators also interviewed Mellon twice at her estate in Virginia, and some of her family members testified before the grand jury in December.

Hunter, Young and other campaign insiders testified before the grand jury in 2009.

"The potential for blackmail with those same donors is extraordinary," said Democratic political consultant Joe Sinsheimer. "In one case, one of the donors was a Texas trial lawyer named Fred Baron. You might have had a case where Fred Baron might have felt he could have chosen the next Supreme Court nominee had Edwards been elected president."

Sinsheimer described Edwards as an "extraordinarily talented man who's thrown it all away on a series of bad decisions."

"And just when you think things can't get any worse, they did. He got indicted," Sinsheimer said.

People listed in the indictment include:

  • Person A = Andrew Young, a former Edwards aide who initially claimed paternity of Hunter's daughter and traveled around the country keeping her in seclusion.
  • Person B = Rielle Hunter, a former campaign staffer who had an affair and daughter with Edwards.
  • Person C = Bunny Mellon, who gave Edwards $725,000 as a gift, according to Young. In his book, "The Politician," Young wrote that the money was used to help cover up Edwards' affair with Hunter.
  • Person D = Fred Baron, a Texas lawyer and Edwards' former campaign finance chairman who died in 2008.

This story is closed for comments.

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  • agentm Jun 3, 2011

    ok i see lineofduty posting lies so those that make you a lie do our homework before posting things this is about edwards not about all those other people you named ...it is funny how the subject is about onething then people changer it to somethig else and you forgot lineofduty bush lied to you didnt post him ..like i said people need to do their research before posting lies and trying to call someone out about lying when your posting lies so that makes you a liar when you post things that are not treue that means liar . that is just like the frying pan trying to call the kettle black.

  • Objective Scientist Jun 3, 2011

    "How sad it is that he came so close to the highest office in the land while possessing the lowest morals." - from a previous poster

    I've seen similar statements before - I truly don't think he came close. He had a long way to go to get to the Presidency and I don't think he would have won.

  • bombayrunner Jun 3, 2011

    Mr Important, cant send me to jail, just watch me get out of this and show all of you.

  • SARCASTICLES Jun 3, 2011

    No, they post lies because that's all they GOT. The truth is so offensive to them, they had to create an alternate-universe media network to brainwash (a stretch, I know) their minions, and keep them angry and frightened, and railing against the "lamestream media". I wish Walter Cronkite was here to put his boot in their cans. "And that's the way it is" ;)

  • agentm Jun 3, 2011

    i'm not defending edwards but we dont need to post lies on here if he has not been proving guilt yet ont eh paying his mistress off only thing he is guilty of is cheating on his wife ... and if he go to jail for that then about 80-90 percent of guys would be locked up to for that ... that is the only thing he is guilty of so far so people do your research and dont post lies how would you feel if you were in his shoes and hav ing lies posted about you. since people on here talking about making laws about politicians lying that means alot of people would go to jail becuase over 90% of people lie .

  • SARCASTICLES Jun 3, 2011

    "I AM a crook".....George Bush. ;)

  • agentm Jun 3, 2011

    well DWS if he dint break the law yes he should be free but if he did yes lock him up @DWS so before we start posting our lies we need to see proof ... and it doesnt matter how much his team is getting an hr that has nothing to do with if he is guilt or not

  • agentm Jun 3, 2011

    Ted kendy that was an accident noone ever said it was manslaughter see how people make up things that is to lineofduty ...why dont people check their facts before they post comments that are not ture i see alot of none truth coments on here people do your research before posting lies

  • dws Jun 3, 2011

    let us hope the Feds are up to the challenge of his up to $1000 per HOUR individual defense team (according to a media report today).......money should not be able to buy his "innocence"

  • agentm Jun 3, 2011

    do u guys really think that the republicans dont have their sex scandlas to they are smart they dont get caught .... hell and to those that saying about making a loaw about these politicians lying that means it would have to be a big law because everyone lies ....yes it was wrong for him the cheating part on his wife that was wrong but i am not making judgement on the money part him using it to pay off until they prove it ..so why are people judging him on that part when they havent prove he did that .... the only part i see he is wrong for is the cheating part....and people think ab out it this mess like this has been going on since george washington days this is nothing new just he wasnt smart. personaly if he was smart he wouldnt had cheated any way