Edwards' lawyers use multiple arguments in seeking dismissal of charges
Posted September 6, 2011
Updated September 7, 2011
RALEIGH, N.C. — Lawyers for John Edwards asked a federal judge on Tuesday to throw out criminal charges against the former Democratic presidential candidate.
Edwards' defense team filed five motions saying that federal prosecutors violated his rights under several constitutional amendments.
The lawyers argue that the federal indictment against him was unconstitutionally vague and that the charges were pursued by a partisan prosecutor for political gain. They also contend that, even if all the facts alleged in the federal indictment were true, he still didn't commit a crime.
"The simplicity of the argument that says, 'Listen, even if I did everything you say I did, it's not a crime' is interesting," said Kieran Shanahan, a Raleigh lawyer and former federal prosecutor.
Edwards was charged in June with using more than $1 million in under-the-table payments from political supporters to hide his pregnant mistress Rielle Hunter during his 2008 run. He's also charged with helping to falsify campaign finance reports to cover up the payments.
Edwards has pleaded not guilty to six felony and misdemeanor counts. The trial is scheduled to start in October.
In their filing, defense lawyers for Edwards say he tried to hide his mistress not to preserve his political candidacy, but to keep his affair secret from his family.
"Mr. Edwards had a number of non-campaign-related, purely personal reasons to conceal his relationship with Ms. Hunter," the former candidate's layers say. "Like most men in his situation, he naturally wanted to shield his extramarital affair from public view to avoid hurting his wife and children and to protect his reputation."
Edwards' lawyers also contend that prosecutors misused their authority to pursue charges against Edwards and that they failed to screen the federal grand jury that issued the indictment.
"In this prosecution, a major figure in the Democratic Party had been brought down and, as it turns out, a Republican U.S. attorney with political ambitions of his own has used this high profile case to his personal benefit," they wrote.
Former U.S. Attorney George Holding, an appointee of President George W. Bush who initiated the investigation against Edwards, was replaced by President Obama shortly after the charges were filed. Within weeks of his resignation, Holding announced that he will challenge Democratic 13th District Congressman Brad Miller in 2012.
The defense also noted that Holding once worked for a judge whose nomination to the federal appellate bench was blocked by Edwards in the U.S. Senate. Also, Holding contributed money to Edwards' political opponents.
Holding said late Tuesday that even as a former prosecutor, he couldn't comment on the pending case.
"U.S. attorneys try their cases in court, not in the press," Holding said.
A message to the spokeswoman for current U.S. Attorney Thomas Walker hasn't been returned.
Shanahan said he sees nothing wrong with Holding's actions.
"I don't think just because you're the U.S. attorney (that) you give up your constitutional right to make campaign contributions and the like," he said.
Shanahan noted that the case had been approved by Obama administration officials. "I just don't think that's going to do very far."
Still, the Republican said the defense has raised several significant issues.
"The government is going to have its hands full, frankly, in responding to it," Shanahan said. "(That is) not to say the indictment lacks good basis, because I think it does, but it is a little bit on the outer edges of the existing law."
Edwards' lawyers also contend he had no fair warning that his actions might be considered illegal by elections regulators because no one has ever been previously charged in a similar case.
"By bringing this indictment, the government draws this court into uncharted territory in the difficult intersection between campaign finance regulation and the First Amendment," the lawyers say in a motion. "... In doing so, the government collapses any distinction between a person's candidacy and his private life."