John Edwards must face campaign-violations trial, judge says
Former presidential candidate John Edwards has failed to persuade a federal judge in North Carolina to dismiss criminal charges that he used campaign donations to cover up an extramarital affair during his 2008 run for the White House.
U.S. District Court Judge Catherine C. Eagles ruled Thursday that a federal prosecution of Edwards can proceed. He is charged with violating campaign finance laws by secretly using more than $900,000 from two wealthy donors to hide the affair, which produced a daughter fathered by Edwards.
Edwards’ lawyers have argued that the charges are too vague and that Edwards’ actions did not constitute a crime. They say the donations were gifts, not campaign contributions.
Edwards’ defense team also accused a former U.S. attorney, a Republican, of bending campaign finance laws in a politically motivated prosecution against Edwards, a Democrat.
The prosecutor, George Holding, resigned as U.S. attorney in July and is now running for Congress from North Carolina.
Eagles ruled that there was no evidence of prosecutorial misconduct, but said other issues raised by Edwards should be decided at trial. The case is scheduled for January in federal court in Greensboro, N.C.
Prosecutors said Rachel "Bunny’" Mellon, an elderly banking heiress, and the late Fred Baron, a Texas lawyer, made secret payments that helped sustain Edwards’ presidential campaign by keeping his pregnant mistress out of the public eye. The money paid living expenses for Rielle Hunter, a videographer hired by Edwards’ campaign team.
Prosecutors said the payments far exceeded legal limits. They said Edwards filed false campaign reports to cover up the payments.
Edwards told reporters outside the federal courthouse in Greensboro on Thursday he was gratified to get his day in court. "What I know with complete and absolute certainty is I did not violate any campaign laws," he said.
Edwards, 58, served one term as U.S. senator from North Carolina. He was the 2004 Democratic vice presidential candidate on a ticket with Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts.
At the time of the affair with Hunter, Edwards was married to Elizabeth Edwards, a lawyer and author who died of breast cancer in December.
If convicted on all six counts, Edwards faces a maximum of 30 years in prison and $1.5 million in fines.
-- David Zucchino in Chapel Hill, N.C.
Photo: John Edwards makes a point in a 2003 speech. Credit: Alex Wong / Getty Image