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Justice Department calls it quits against John Edwards

June 13, 2012|By David Zucchino
  • Former Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.) in Greensboro, N.C.
Former Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.) in Greensboro, N.C. (Alex Wong / Getty Images )

DURHAM, N.C. — A year after indicting former Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards on campaign finance fraud charges, the Justice Department on Wednesday dismissed all remaining charges against the former North Carolina senator.

The dismissal came 13 days after a federal jury in Greensboro, N.C., acquitted Edwards of one felony charge and deadlocked on five others, prompting a mistrial. Jurors later said prosecutors did not offer convincing evidence that Edwards had used campaign donations to hide his pregnant mistress and save his campaign for the 2008 presidential nomination from scandal.

"We knew that this case — like all campaign finance cases — would be challenging," Assistant Atty. Gen. Lanny A. Breuer of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division said in a statement. "But it is our duty to bring hard cases when we believe that the facts and the law support charging a candidate for high office with a crime."

Edwards’ lawyers had argued in court that payments of $925,000 from two wealthy benefactors were private gifts intended to hide Edwards’ affair with videographer Rielle Hunter from his cancer-stricken wife, Elizabeth Edwards. They called the indictment by a Republican prosecutor in Raleigh, N.C., politically motivated and accused the Justice Department of wasting taxpayer money prosecuting a philandering husband.

Jury members said in post-trial interviews that they did not believe the testimony of Andrew Young, formerly an adoring acolyte and aide to Edwards who turned against him and testified for the prosecution in return for immunity. With their star witness compromised by his previous lies and contradictions, prosecutors did not have a smoking gun that directly linked Edwards to campaign contributions.

Breuer said the government “put on its best case’’ during three weeks of testimony, much of it focusing on sordid details of donated money spent to fly Hunter — and later the daughter fathered by Edwards — around the country to escape reporters from the National Enquirer.

Noting that jurors could not reach a unanimous verdict on the five charges, Breuer said, “We respect their judgment. In the interest of justice, we have decided not to retry Mr. Edwards on those counts.’’

Edwards’ daughter Cate Edwards, 30, a lawyer who sat directly behind her father throughout the trial, wrote on her Twitter account Wednesday: “Big sigh of relief. Ready to move forward with life.’’

There was no immediate comment from John Edwards, who lives in a mansion on gated grounds outside Chapel Hill, N.C.

In a statement, his three lawyers welcomed the dismissal and said a second trial would have had the same outcome. They called the Justice Department charges a "novel theory of campaign law" but not a crime.

"While John has repeatedly admitted to his sins, he has also consistently asserted, as we demonstrated at trial, that he did not violate any campaign law nor even imagined that any campaign laws could apply," the statement said.

"We are very glad that, after living under this cloud for over three years, John and his family can have their lives back and enjoy the peace they deserve," the lawyers said.

After the May 31 verdict, Edwards stood on the federal courthouse steps in Greensboro and confessed to doing "an awful, awful lot that was wrong." Edwards said he had lied to voters, his campaign staff and his wife about his affair with Hunter, also denying that he fathered Hunter’s child.

But, he added: "I do not believe I ever did anything illegal."

He then expressed his love for the four children he had with Elizabeth Edwards, who died of cancer in 2010 after the couple divorced. He made a special mention of his daughter with Hunter, Francis Quinn, now 4, "whom I love more than any of you can imagine."

And, in an apparent attempt to begin the long process of rehabilitating his image, Edwards said: "I don’t think God’s through with me," speaking vaguely about working on behalf of poor children.

On Tuesday, ABC News announced that it would air an interview with Hunter on June 22. The network said Hunter would "speak candidly" about Edwards’ current relationship with her and their daughter, and about what she would have told the jury had she testified.

Neither Hunter nor Edwards testified during the trial. Jurors also did not hear from the two benefactors: wealthy Texas lawyer Fred Baron, who died in 2008, and billionaire heiress Rachel “Bunny’’ Mellon, who is 101 and in failing health.

Edwards, 59, a wealthy personal injury lawyer and the 2004 Democratic vice presidential nominee, had faced up to 30 years in jail and $1.5 million in fines if convicted on all charges.

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david.zucchino@latimes.com

John Edwards, who lives with two of his younger children in a mansion on gated grounds outside Chapel Hill, N.C.

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