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Lawyers ask judge to toss charges against Edwards

Posted October 26, 2011
Updated October 27, 2011

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— Lawyers for John Edwards worked Wednesday to undercut the federal government's criminal case against the former presidential candidate before it ever gets to a jury.

Edwards is scheduled to be tried in January on charges that he asked two wealthy campaign donors to provide nearly $1 million in secret payments used to hide his pregnant mistress as he sought the Democratic Party's nomination for the White House in 2007 and early 2008.

In a hearing to consider five motions seeking the dismissal of the case, lawyer Abbe Lowell said Edwards knew nothing of the checks, cash and private jets used to fly Rielle Hunter across the country and put her up in luxury homes and hotels.

But even if Edwards did know, Lowell told U.S. District Judge Catherine Eagles, no laws were broken.

"Criminal laws are supposed to be written in Congress," Lowell said. "They should not be written on the desks of prosecutors who decide after the fact what is to be permissible."

Edwards sat quietly at the defense table as Lowell called the government's case "crazy." Lowell argued there is no statute or precedent in federal law where a campaign contribution is defined as money "provided by a third party to another third party" that never went through a campaign account.

In Edwards' case, the money was provided by his national campaign finance chairman, wealthy Texas lawyer Fred Baron, and campaign donor Rachel "Bunny Mellon," a millionaire socialite who at the time was 98 years old. Both had already given Edwards' campaign the maximum $2,300 individual contribution allowed by law.

Much of the undisclosed money was funneled to Andrew Young, a close aide to Edwards who left the campaign and falsely claimed paternity of the senator's illegitimate child. Young and his wife invited the pregnant Hunter to live in their home near Chapel Hill and later traveled with her as tabloid reporters sought to expose the candidate's extramarital affair.

"Whether John Edwards is a candidate for president or a guy down the street, there are a lot of people who don't advertise they're having a sexual affair," Lowell said.

John Edwards at court Edwards' lawyers argue for dismissal of criminal charges

As an example, he cited former U.S. Sen. John Ensign, a Nevada Republican whose parents gave a $96,000 check to his married mistress as "severance" when she left the employment of his campaign. Federal Elections Commission officials later determined the payment was a personal gift, not a campaign contribution.

Prosecutors countered Wednesday that they intend to prove Edwards knew full well about the money paid by Baron and Mellon and that he personally directed its use to support Hunter. He was not a cheating husband trying to hide his affair from his wife, they argued, but a public figure who had built his reputation as a family man desperate to keep his campaign from blowing up.

"We have a candidate who asked two donors for money," David Harbach II, one of the federal prosecutors, told the judge. "That candidate doesn't insulate himself from liability because someone else cashes the checks."

Edwards' attorneys also argued that the former U.S. senator was targeted by former U.S. Attorney George Holding, a Republican appointee who contributed to the campaigns of Edwards' opponents and whose mentor was blocked from a federal judgeship by Edwards.

Holding stepped down as U.S. attorney shortly after Edwards was indicted in June and is now a Republican candidate for the 13th Congressional District.

Eagles planned to resume the hearing Thursday morning, but it wasn't clear when she might rule on the defense motions.

She did rule on a motion from prosecutors questioning whether Lowell had a conflict of interest in the case because he previously represented two potential witnesses when they testified before a federal grand jury.

Eagles ruled that Lowell could continue with the case, though she asked Edwards to stand and answer some questions about the issue.

Edwards, who previously denied his affair on national television, rose from the table, placed his hand on a Bible and swore to tell the truth.

Eagles asked the former candidate if he understood that, by having Lowell represent him, he opened the possibility of a potential conflict of interest arising at trial that could result in the judge limiting the lawyer's participation.

"I do understand that," Edwards said.

The judge then asked whether Edwards wished to talk the issue over with any lawyer other than the four then sitting with him.

An attorney himself, Edwards flashed a quick smile.

"No, I think I've talked to enough lawyers," he said.

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  • tiblet Oct 27, 2011

    "Edwards, who previously denied his affair on national television, rose from the table, placed his hand on a Bible and swore to tell the truth."

    I think I just threw up in my mouth a little.

  • cantstandya Oct 26, 2011

    serve time for general principal,"doubletap357." Thats a new one for the law books,if him what about every other man or woman that has an affair,get a grip this is America,it's what Americans do enjoy their freedoms.

  • cantstandya Oct 26, 2011

    Every one of these politicians have cooked their books,he ran around on his sick wife,had a child by another woman,lied about it and let alot of people down who thought more of him than they should have,but other than the money this state has spent on trying to get their pound of flesh he has not cost anyone a dime,this story keeps the activities of many who are still in office from being the catch of the day.

  • jet2rdu Oct 26, 2011

    It is apparent to anyone who follows politics espcially those in NC that the democratic party in NC has a rather colorful history of corruptness from the top to the bottom,, now this isn't my opinion this is easily verefiable should a person merely check the public record of convictions of politicans in the last 10 yrs..wildpig777

    You are correct. That is why in 2012 John will be punching in Butner NC into his GPS rather than Charlotte for the DNC Convention. Heck, there are enough Dems at the Butner FCC for their own convention.

  • sloan89 Oct 26, 2011

    I'd like to see how the money was treated on the giving and receiving persons tax filings. If both declared it a a gift then no case. If one declared it as a gift and the onter a campaign donation then there is a problem. If neither declared it then a different problem.

    And to whom was the money given, not where did it end up at?

    Lot's of questions yet to be answered.

  • Tax Man Oct 26, 2011

    Hope the judge allows this to proceed. Johnny needs a long prison term equal to his ego and his belief he is above the law. At the very least, if this was not a political contribution, it was a windfall and should be taxed by the feds and NC. The man is dishonest and I believe a criminal. Let a jury decide.

  • snshine62d Oct 26, 2011

    Amby Girl wrote:
    wildpig777 are you saying there is no corruption in the republican party?? Are you saying only the democrats are corrupt?? Like I said, where have you been living?? I am a registered republican and even I know they are corrupt. I have no faith in our politicians today, dems or repubs. I am not one that votes straight ticket. I vote for the candidate that I deem the most 'worthy' so to speak. And today, that would be a very difficult choice.

    So again, the democrats are not the only party with lengthy criminal and corrupt activities.

    (I could not agree with this statement more. Well said. )

  • bill0 Oct 26, 2011

    haggis basher- "Yeah and I've got a bridge to sell. "

    So, since you seem to think you know that there was influenced being peddled, what was Bunny attempting to influence? A defense contract? A bridge? A tax break?

    The simple truth is that this little old lady was taken by Johny Boy for some unknown reason and she agreed to help him out of a jam. She is just a little old lady who has lots of money and loves gardening and arts.

  • haggis basher Oct 26, 2011

    "There is absolutely no indication that this was an attempt to influence legislation or to gain preferential treatment etc. "

    Yeah and I've got a bridge to sell.

    "There is lots and lots of real corruption and vote buying in washington. Why prosecutors are focusing on this instead is completely beyond me."

    True but this makes a good start.....and hiding a million in contributions, no matter what it paid for, is not a small matter.

  • Ambygirl Oct 26, 2011

    cantstandya-- we both agree that we want this to stop costing the taxpayers. I think that is the general consensus here by everyone whether we agree on the reason or not. Feels like we are beating a dead horse as the saying goes...

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