John Edwards indicted on six felony counts; former and senator: ‘I did not break the law’

by Keith Barber

John Edwards, seen here with daughter Cate (right), plead not guilty to six felony counts, including allegations he illegally used campaign funds to conceal a extramarital affair with his mistress, Rielle Hunter, and her pregnancy with his child.

A federal grand jury indicted former senator and two-time presidential candidate John Edwards last week on six felony counts.

Edwards appeared at the federal courthouse in Winston-Salem on June 3 and pleaded not guilty to four counts of illegal campaign contributions, one count of conspiracy and one count of making false statements. Afterwards, Edwards made a brief statement to a throng of reporters gathered on the courthouse steps.

“There’s no question that I’ve done wrong and I take full responsibility for having done wrong,” Edwards said. “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. Thank you all very much.”

The indictment states that Edwards and his co-conspirators solicited and accepted more than $900,000 in campaign contributions, well in excess of election law, to conceal Edwards’ extramarital affair with Rielle Hunter and Hunter’s pregnancy with his child.

“Edwards knew that public revelation of the affair and pregnancy would destroy his candidacy by, among other things, undermining Edwards’ presentation of himself as a family man and by forcing his campaign to divert personnel and resources away from other campaign activities to respond to criticism and media scrutiny regarding the affair and pregnancy,” the federal indictment states.

After a brief arraignment hearing at the federal courthouse last week, Edwards was released on his own recognizance, ordered to surrender his passport and asked not to leave the lower 48 states. If convicted, Edwards faces up to 30 years in prison and a fine of $1.5 million.

Greg Craig, Edwards’ lawyer, said the case hinges on whether the $925,000 donated by two individuals that was allegedly used to pay for Hunter’s living and medical expenses, as well as her travel and accommodations to hide her from the news media and public, should have been treated as campaign contributions.

“There is no claim in this indictment that there was any misuse of campaign funds,” Craig said to reporters outside the courthouse on June 3. “There is no one alleging that campaign funds of the presidential campaign are involved here, so that is not an issue in this case.”

The conspiracy count section of the indictment states that Edwards and his coconspirators concealed from the Federal Election Commission the receipt of the two big contributors’ unlawful contributions. This, in effect, allegedly caused the John Edwards for President Committee to file false and misleading campaign finance reports, which did not disclose the illegal contributions.

In May 2007, Hunter informed Edwards she was pregnant with his child, according to the indictment. Edwards and Andrew Young, a former aide, then allegedly identified people who could provide financial support to Hunter. The individual who wrote checks totaling $725,000 made them out to a friend, who forwarded the checks to Young, whose wife endorsed them in her maiden name and deposited the checks into accounts controlled by her and Young, according to the indictment.

The checks were used to pay for Hunter’s rent, furniture, car, living expenses, medical visits and prenatal care.

In October 2007, Edwards falsely denied having an affair with Hunter after the National Enquirer exposed the relationship. In December of that year, Edwards asked Young to falsely claim paternity of Hunter’s child, according to the indictment.

“Edwards told [Young] that his efforts to win the presidency — and everything they had fought for — depended on it,” the indictment states.

After Young falsely claimed paternity of Hunter’s child, the indictment alleges that Edwards arranged for another campaign contributor to pay for Young’s travel and accommodations “to escape the attention of the media in order to avoid damage to Edwards’ campaign,” the indictment states. The campaign contributor had already maximum amount allowable under the law.

Edwards suspended his campaign in January 2008, but the John Edwards for President Committee still remained in existence. The federal indictment alleges that Edwards caused his campaign committee file false and deceptive campaign finance reports with the Federal Election Commission, or FEC, which failed to disclose contributions by the two big donors totaling $925,000.

The indictment alleges that Edwards made a number of false statements on national television regarding whether he was the

father of Hunter’s child, or whether any money had been paid to Hunter to cover up their extramarital affair. In August 2009, as Edwards prepared to make a statement in which he would admit he was the father of Hunter’s child, Edwards allegedly told an employee that during his presidential campaign, he was aware that a campaign contributor had provided money to support and hide Hunter from the media, according to the indictment.

“Edwards further told the employee that this was a huge issue and that for ‘legal and practical reasons’ it should not be mentioned in the statement they were preparing,” the indictment states. “Edwards ultimately did not issue the statement he and the employee prepared.”

The false statements count of the federal indictment alleges that Edwards “knowingly and willfully falsified, concealed, and covered up by trick, scheme and device a material fact, in that Edwards concealed from the John Edwards for President Committee hundreds of thousands of dollars in contributions from [two big contributors]… and caused the John Edwards for President Committee to create and submit periodic campaign finance reports to the FEC which purported to disclose all contributions of more than $200 in an election cycle, when, in truth and in fact, as Edwards well knew, those reports failed to disclose hundreds of thousands of dollars in contributions.”

Craig said the US government’s case against Edwards sets a legal precedent.

“In the history of the federal election campaign law, no one has ever been charged, either civilly or criminally, with the claims that have been brought against Senator Edwards today,” Craig said. “This is an unprecedented prosecution, much less an unprecedented civil case.”

“No one would have known or should have known or could have been expected to know that these payments would be treated or should be considered as campaign contributions, and there is no way that Senator Edwards knew that fact either,” Craig said. “He will enter a plea of not guilty; he has broken no law and we will defend this case vigorously.”