Facing six felony counts and a possible prison sentence, former North Carolina Senator and presidential candidate John Edwards spent the week squirming in his seat as a North Carolina jury continued to contemplate his fate. Ultimately, the judge was forced to declare a mistrial on five of the six counts.
As reported by Yahoo!News:
On Thursday, after nine days of deliberations, John Edwards appeared thankful outside the federal courthouse in Greensboro, N.C., on Thursday, after the jury in his corruption trial said that it could not agree on a verdict for five of six counts, forcing U.S. District Judge Catherine Eagles to declare a mistrial.
The one count the 12-member jury agreed on–count three–was related to $725,000 given to Edwards by Rachel “Bunny” Mellon, a wealthy Texas heiress. The jury found Edwards not guilty of that count.
It is unclear whether the Holder Department of Justice (DOJ) will seek to retry the case.
John Edwards conducted an illicit affair with campaign employee Rielle Hunter that resulted in the birth of their daughter, Francis Quinn Hunter. Reports of his affair and “love child” emerged during Edwards’ pursuit of the Democratic presidential nomination in 2008. He immediately dismissed them as “tabloid trash” even after reporters from the National Enquirer trapped Edwards in the basement of the Beverly Hilton hotel during one of his late-night liaisons with Ms. Hunter.
Meanwhile, behind the scenes, Edwards reportedly persuaded his former political aide Andrew Young to claim that he was the father of the child, and not Edwards. According to ABC News, Young stated in an interview that Edwards asked him to: “Get a doctor to fake the DNA results… and to steal a diaper from the baby so he could secretly do a DNA test to find out if this [was] indeed his child.”
The ruse failed and Edwards was forced to admit to the whole sordid mess. The focus then shifted to whether Edwards unlawfully diverted campaign funds to hide the affair.
Edwards denies the claim, but according to witness testimony Hunter and Young received nearly a million dollars in “hush” payments from philanthropist Rachel “Bunny” Mellon and Texas billionaire Fred Baron, two campaign donors who did not want to see the scandal derail Edwards’ pursuit of the White House.
Some political pundits have expressed support for the argument made by Edwards’ legal team that these “gift payments” to Ms. Hunter were not technically campaign contributions and are therefore not subject to campaign finance law. But Hans Von Spakovsky at the Heritage Foundation exposes this dubious line of reasoning in an excellent article he published on May 18.
According to Hans, the money paid to Edwards’ mistress was “dishonest, dishonorable, and illegal:”
Federal law…prohibits the conversion of campaign funds to any personal use (2 U.S.C. §439a). Most important, FEC regulations state that the payment of a personal expense by any person other than the candidate is considered a contribution to the candidate, unless the payment would have been made irrespective of the candidacy (11 CFR 113.1). As the FEC said in a prior advisory opinion (AO 2008-17), the key question is, “Would the third party pay the expense if the candidate was not running for Federal office?”
The testimony of government witnesses makes it pretty clear that the payments by these donors would not have been made if Edwards had not been running for office. Edwards is a multimillionaire; he could easily have afforded to make the payments (including legally obligated child support) out of his personal funds. But such personal payments would have blown up his candidacy and made it impossible to hide what he clearly wanted to keep hidden. The payments by his maxed-out campaign contributors were clearly intended to “influence” the 2008 presidential election by keeping Edwards in the race and protecting his reputation.
I believe that the jury could have easily found that the payments made to Ms. Hunter represented illegal campaign contributions. Edwards’ decision to cheat on his then cancer-stricken wife, the late Elizabeth Edwards, was shameless. His lies about the relationship and the payments suggest that he knew that the scheme crossed the legal line. But the government (the Obama DOJ) couldn’t prove its case.
There may be some sensible reasons for the DOJ not to retry Edwards. One concern I have is that if Edwards remains unprosecuted, other corrupt politicians may try to use the “Edwards loophole” to get unreported cash gifts to help their campaigns. In the meantime, we should thank our lucky stars that the despicable Edwards did not make it to the presidency. Interestingly, if the affair had been public sooner, Edwards may have dropped out of the 2008 race sooner – which could have then resulted in Hillary Clinton’s getting the votes she needed to defeat Obama’s nomination bid. Ironically, the chief beneficiary of Edwards’s criminal scheme may be sitting in the Oval Office right now.