Former senator and presidential candidate John Edwards was indicted on Friday in North Carolina. He is charged with six counts of violating various federal campaign laws, stemming from allegations that he accepted more than $925,000 in campaign contributions and then used them to help him cover up his affair with then-aide Rielle Hunter. He has pleaded not guilty to all counts.
Some legal strategists appeared to be caught off guard by the news. More than one expert, including some Republicans, like ex-FEC chairman Mike Toner, have already made statements expressing their doubts as to whether or not the federal government actually has precedence that would allow them to win the case against Edwards.
It is in some ways truly surprising that the government is trying to push forward with this. The laws Edwards is accused of breaking make this case a hard one to win right out of the gate. The government has to prove that not only did Edwards specifically use campaign contributions to pay for Hunter’s compliance, but also that he had used the funds in a way that shows his intent of breaking the law. That is, that he had to know exactly what he was doing, when he was doing it. That’s going to be a hard thing to prove absolutely without a pretty clear chain of events and evidence.
I think like many of the analysts so far that there may well be a moral angle to this case that drove the government officials forward past their legal boundaries. Like the recent allegations against Arnold Schwarzenegger, where news that he committed adultery in a particularly cruel manner has led to questions concerning his honesty as governor of California as well, Edwards’ cheating on his wife while she was battling terminal cancer may well have filtered into the courtroom.
I say that because of the nature of the allegations against Edwards, as well as the well-noted lack of precedence for this case, a fact that has been remarked on by officials on both sides of the political aisle. The misuse of funds specifically revolves around the cover-up of his affair with Rielle Hunter, which also included their child. The money that paid for her compliance reportedly came from two Edwards supporters, including Rachel Mellon, who has now been ordered to refrain from contact with the former senator. But that money was never claimed as campaign contributions to the FEC, and therefore proving that that is what they were becomes tricky.
I’m surprised that the government thinks that they can win this, unless there is a paper trail or other evidence that the public is not yet aware of. Politicians have certainly been accused of, and tried for, violating the laws involving the use of contributions before. But in this case, despite the complete loss of my initial respect for Edwards in the wake of his actions involving Hunter, the prosecutors appear to be stretching past their legal boundaries to prove a moral point.