Jury selection began yesterday in Greensboro, N.C., in the federal trial of former presidential candidate John Edwards. Because of the extremely prejudicial aspects of Edwards’ infidelity while his wife was battling cancer, voir dire and pre-trial motions in limine will be critically important in the case. Equally important will be the legal basis for the campaign finance charges in the case over the use of third-party funds to hide his affair with Rielle Hunter. In my view, the charges stretch the law too far but the government will still have to convince a jury. The greatest danger for the defense remains the prejudicial elements and how they may warp the jury’s view of the facts and legal standard.
Edwards is accused of using nearly $1 million in donor contributions to pay living expenses for a mistress. However, Edwards was given this money by third-parties – it did not pass through his campaign. He is also accused of conspiracy and false statements, which present more conventional questions for the jury.
The motions in limine will be fascinating to read. However, first the two sides will struggle mightily to select jurors — and question them as to their knowledge of the sensational facts in the case.
A key issue will be whether the jury willing to give Edwards the benefit of the doubt over his claimed lack of knowledge of the payments by his national campaign finance chairman, the late Texas lawyer Fred Baron, and campaign donor Rachel “Bunny” Mellon, an heiress and socialite. Baron and Mellon had already given Edwards’ campaign the maximum $2,300 individual contribution allowed by federal law and Edwards says that he was unaware that they paid for private jets, luxury hotels and medical treatments for Hunter. However, even if he knew, the motivation in such a case is as obvious as it is classic — he was covering up an affair from his wife. That would appear more of a motivation than seeking to acquire illegal campaign contributions. That was clearly the view of the Federal Election Commission which investigated the case and declined to seek charges or issue a fine. Yet, the Justice Department decided to ignore the view of experts at the FEC and push the envelope on what constitutes a federal campaign finance violation.
While I am no fan of Edwards, the case seems driven more by political than legal considerations. There was tremendous pressure to punish Edwards for his disgraceful conduct, but there remains a serious question whether this political scandal should have been left to a political response. Indeed, Edwards is now living as an isolated and despised individual. This seems like the criminalization of being a cad.
Here is a copy of the indictment: usa-v-edwards
Source: Washington Post