It seems that John Edwards has gone from the highest of heights to the lowest of lows.
Now that a grand jury has indicted him, could the former U.S. senator and ex-presidential candidate actually end up becoming a convicted criminal?
Edwards has been charged with six campaign finance law violations for allegedly accepting $925,000 from donors to conceal an extramarital affair and pregnancy with Hollywood videographer Rielle Hunter.
The cash was allegedly provided by two of Edwards’s donors: his national campaign finance chairman, Fred Baron, who supplied more than $300,000 and who passed away in 2008, and Rachel “Bunny” Mellon, a 100-year-old banking heiress, who came up with more than $700,000.
Edwards has decided not to seek a plea bargain and instead pursue a trial. This course of action is not without risk. If convicted, he could go to prison for up to 30 years and be fined as much as $1.5 million.
Only time will tell whether or not Edwards will come back to the plea bargaining table. In the meantime, his lawyers are busily preparing his defense.
The government’s burden of proof requires evidence, which establishes beyond a reasonable doubt, that the money that changed hands was, in fact, a campaign contribution, and that Edwards was aware of the payments.
The funds in question, however, never went into campaign accounts, but rather were sent directly to Hunter or were delivered to Hunter via third parties. Edwards’s prime donor, Mellon, treated the payments as gifts and even reported them on gift tax returns.
The prosecution’s theory is based on an untested 11-year-old advisory opinion by the Federal Election Commission, which determined that a gift to a political candidate can be treated as a campaign contribution.
Edwards’s lawyers will likely argue that there were no illegal donations to the campaign. In addition, they will probably contend that the funds were merely personal financial assistance from friends and were not meant for election purposes.
Despite the fact that Edwards’s actions, in relation to his late wife and to the public, were disgraceful and even contemptible, the difficulties faced by the prosecution make his legal defense appear stronger than reporting has indicated.