WRAL Investigates

Sources: Edwards plea deal fell apart right before indictment

Posted June 5, 2011

— Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards nearly accepted a plea deal, but negotiations fell apart in the hours before he was indicted in a two-year-long investigation into whether he used campaign contributions to cover up an extramarital affair, WRAL News learned Sunday.

Edwards, 58, pleaded not guilty Friday to four counts of illegal campaign contributions and charges of conspiracy and false statements.

Federal prosecutors say he used more than $900,000 from his presidential campaign to cover up his affair with staffer Rielle Hunter and the birth of their daughter, Quinn. Edwards' lawyers say the money from his former campaign finance chairman Fred Baron and Rachel "Bunny" Mellon, a 100-year-old heiress to pharmaceutical and banking fortunes, were personal gifts.

Sources told WRAL News that the U.S. Department of Justice offered Edwards a deal late last week that would have allowed him to plead guilty to three misdemeanor charges and face up to six months in jail. A judge would have decided whether he would serve jail time.

John Edwards Sources: Edwards plea deal fell apart right before indictment

Sources said that defense attorneys wanted to argue before a judge how any possible time might be served, possibly in a halfway house or house arrest. Prosecutors did not want to give defense attorneys that privilege.

Negotiations continued through Thursday night and into Friday morning but fell apart.

Edwards maintained his innocence Friday.

"I did not break the law, and I never, ever thought I was breaking the law," he said.

David McLennan, a political science professor at Peace College in Raleigh, said that statement was intended to send a clear message.

"The federal case is not open and shut. It's going to be based on a lot of interpretation on where or not Edwards' campaign was going forward because of the contributions," McLennan said. 

Expert: Edwards indictment is 'new kind of case' Expert: Edwards indictment is 'new kind of case'

He said the trial, which starts July 11, will present a "new kind of case."

"(Edwards) is going to roll the dice and see what happens. He's a good attorney. His attorneys are good attorneys," McLennan said.

But the outcome could impact future campaigns, he said.

"It is going to effect how future candidates are going to look at their own campaigns and how outside groups and federal elections officials look at campaigns," McLennan said.

The Justice Department had previously offered Edwards a plea deal for one felony count, sources told WRAL News. A judge would have decided on any possible prison time.

A felony conviction would require him to give up his license to practice.

George Holding, U.S. attorney for the middle district of North Carolina, investigated the case, but it had to be vetted by the Justice Department before charges could be filed. 

If convicted on all counts, he faces a maximum of 30 years in prison and $1.5 million in fines.

38 Comments

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  • cwood3 Jun 6, 3:18 p.m.

    Gwally-you missed some-Jim Black, Meg Scott Phipps, Frank Ballance, and of course, Mike Easley. We'll wait a while to see if our beautiful Governor is ever indicted on campaign violations. That'll have to wait

  • driverkid3 Jun 6, 3:16 p.m.

    TrueBlueRep:::With all the money he has why in the Sam Hill would he use donations to cover up his affair/child?

    Because he is/was a politician that like many others, thinks he is above the law. I really hope he has to serve time for this.

  • superman Jun 6, 2:57 p.m.

    The Feds must think they have an excellent case. Two years in the investigation and they had to run it by the guys in
    Washington--which kinda firms up the validity of the charges. The Feds didnt seem to want to settle for his terms. Should be a very interesting trial. His life is going to be an open book for his children, his parents, relatives and has been friends. He should have saved what little self respect and reputation he has by just taking the plea that was offered. Even if none of the charges "stick" eveyone will get to know for sure what kind of person he was. I am sure his parents are very disappointed in him.

  • cwood3 Jun 6, 2:44 p.m.

    Johnny boy would not take the plea because they wanted his Law License as part of the deal-I'll bet a bunch-none of us know for sure!! his Law license as well as his connections in Chapel Hill are the only 2 avenues of revenue he's got.

    He's got to make money to power that 26K sqft. house at Governor's Club. After all, he has an image to maintain-$400 haircuts and all.

    After all this is over, I wonder when Reille will move in with him. This all started when she said-"you're hot!!!" 8 letters cost him millions!!

    Such a good Democrat!! Wonder if he's giving lessons on campaign finance???

    Maybe this will linger and the trial will go on next September when all of "'acorn" i mean the DNC Convention is occuring in Charlotte. That'll add some extra drama to the occation.

  • babedan Jun 6, 2:24 p.m.

    Your honor my defense is I'm a politician, I'm supposed to lie to the people I represent. Haven't you read the handbook? So Of course I can't be guilty. Now I would have accepted that misdiminor charge if no Jail time was guaranteed and told my followers I did it to save the Taxpayers time and money, but I wasn't really guilty. I took one for the country see how much I care about the little people.

    Oh, BTW, If you find me guilty, I'll do my best to get my buddies in congress to have you removed from your cushy job behind that bench.

    And wasn't all that money given to me??? to use as I see fit, not for some dumb presidental run that everyone knew I didn't have a chance to win.

  • ICTrue Jun 6, 2:17 p.m.

    "Good ol' Jonny....couldn't happen to a nicer liberal/entitlement selling democratic crook....(unless it was Charley Rangel, Chris Dodd, Barney Frank(s), Nomobama, Nancy Pe or Harry Reid)...!!!!!!"GWALLY

    Couldn't have said it better myself.

  • baracus Jun 6, 1:59 p.m.

    "Why would he be bargaining with the FBI if he were not guilty."

    Trials are expensive and at this point avoiding a record to maintain his "good name" would be too little, too late, so why not take a sure thing? Unlike a murder trial, it isn't a matter of what he did but whether or not it is a crime.

  • cseanwatts Jun 6, 1:52 p.m.

    @baracus - 99% of people who believe anyone can RECEIVE money tax free DO NOT pay any taxes. Truth be known, they don't have a clue about taxes.

  • tdoughtie3 Jun 6, 1:36 p.m.

    Why would he be bargaining with the FBI if he were not guilty. Trying to get a lesser sentence. Sounds to me like he is guilty and he knows it.

  • aehamilton Jun 6, 12:32 p.m.

    This story just illuminates yet another probable lie. If he is guilty and was going to accept the plea deal, he is lying now by saying that he is not guilty. If he was not guilty and was intending to accept the deal, then he was lying then by being willing to accept the deal. Either way he is a liar. But I am sure that is news to no one.

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