Jury Selection Starts In Edwards Case with Controversial Campaign Finance Charges

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

49 thoughts on “Jury Selection Starts In Edwards Case with Controversial Campaign Finance Charges”

  1. I have no objections to prosecuting former Senator Edwards for any laws he may allegedly have broken. Only a jury can ascertain whether he did, in fact, break any laws. Otherwise, like all American citizens, he enjoys the presumption of innocence while the prosecution bears the burden of proving otherwise. Given his current pariah status, whatever happens to him, either way, will not likely have much of an impact on the endemic coporate corruption eating away at America — although every little bit of justice would help.

    I once took some graduate courses in Buddhism from a former Sri Lankan ambassador to the United States and France. He told me on one occasion that upon arriving in Washington, a lobbyist intermediary for a U. S. Congressman met him at the airport and whisked him away to a fancy restraurant where he proposed the standard (at that time) 35-to-1 deal: namely, that for every millon dollars contributed to the Congressman’s various interests, the ambassador’s country would receive thirty-five million dollars in aid. Specifically, though, the lobbyist wanted money to assist in the support of the Congressman’s mistress. Upon consultation, the Ambassador’s government instructed him to politely decline the offer. Not six months later, though, the Ambassador told me that he met the Pakistani Ambassador — a woman — at a diplomatic function, and she told him that the same lobbyist had approached her with the very same offer. “Of course you find corruption everywhere in the world,” the Ambassador told me. “If you want something from the Minister of Education in France, then you will have to do something for him in return. But the sheer scale of corrupion in America defies human comprehension.”

    Freeing Army Private Bradley Manning and calling off the Obama administration’s vicious war on whistleblowing patriots would do more for American justice than convicting yet another sleazy politician of … well … sleaze. Doing both might prove even more salutary. Nonetheless, I agree with those who advise putting more important priorities before scandalous sex distractions that might satisfy a Puritan prurience but won’t end the American government’s real and pressing depredations on the ordinary American.

  2. Tony C, one of the first things I learned in my work for a union was that it didn’t really matter what the contract said, the difference between warfare on a daily basis and peace and sunshine was the people you had administering the agreement. It all starts with people of honor. Like you, I’m not seeing a whole lot of honor lately, or for the last couple of decades.

  3. Blouise, (I had errands and chores- blech- just getting back) your point is accurate, I think that Edward’s actions were so distasteful that there is just no play left in the good old boy system for him. Newt’s actions were no better really, what he lacked in the baby aspect he made up for with repetition. Yet he is still taken seriously, more or less, and manages to sell his books. LOL, fickle is the only word that comes to mind when I try to understand the shifting viewpoint of most voters.

  4. @LottaKatz: I believe that by his actions, Obama has shown himself to be an unprincipled power seeker. I honestly cannot recall a president in my lifetime that has done the reverse of his campaign promises more frequently or consistently than Obama.

    Bush and Cheney, for example, were at least honest about their authoritarian intent. They did not promise to have the most transparent White House in history, and then proceed to create the most secretive White House in history. They did not tell us the courts were up to the challenge of trying terrorists, and then rewrite the rule of law to “The Government Always Wins.” They did not promise us a public option, then immediately promise to the insurance companies (as we now know) that it would never happen. Bush and Cheney never promised us that no lobbyist would be part of their staff, and then immediately hire lobbyists for their staff.

    I could go on, but the point is made.

    As part of gaining power, Obama (who curried the small donor contribution) has courted the big money contributions. We were just a stepping stone to power, once the power was achieved we were betrayed, because he then had access to more powerful friends that would not back him before he won power, but were happy to back him once he proved it was possible.

    Although I was fooled into voting for him (twice) I have come to believe that Obama serves the 0.01%, the people that can drop a million dollars on a whim and never miss it. Everything he does either helps them manipulate the world economy or has no real financial impact on them. Just judging by the outcome of Obama’s decisions, I am forced to infer they are the constituency he is serving, albeit with an eye on getting re-elected (which is now, IMO, a dead-cinch certainty against Romney).

  5. People HAVE been prosecuted for misusing campaign funds but I don’t think it has served as much of a deterrent, since it still goes on with great regularity.

    I am all for applying the laws to everyone, so let’s start with the Wall St. ghouls and the torture ghouls — maybe THOSE prosecutions will serve as a deterrent and scare off future Wall St. crooks and thugs, and cause torturers to pause before torturing again.

    Anyone wanna lay bets on the deterrent power of THOSE prosecutions?

    My point here is that the blood lust to “get” John Edwards has MORE to do with his extra-marital affair and the disappointment that has caused for Edwards’ supporters and LESS to do with the misuse of campaign funds.

    The Wall St. ghouls and the torture ghouls have caused a lot more pain and suffering in this world for a lot MORE people than John Edwards’ sins have — and, NO, I am NOT defending him, just trying to keep this in proportion.

  6. lotta,

    I really do like the clarity of Tony’s prose.

    To your point, it would be better if the one being prosecuted were a little more popular within the Democratic Party and little less of a social pariah overall, but that doesn’t change the validity of the prosecution itself … just the perception.

    I don’t think I’ve worded that thought as well as I could. (One of the reasons I admire Tony’s prose.)

    BTW, the check cleared on re-submission so my vote is yours on the other matter. 😉

  7. Hmmm, Blouise posted while I was typing and her, and Tony’s, point is valid even if the dynamic is a diminishment of the ideal. EXCEPT (and it’s a big one) these folks are playing for the same team, It’s a Dem on Dem prosecution. I’d hate to have a political race influenced by the thought that whoever loses has to fear the later wrath of the winner from their own party. LOL. Might just throw the fear of Dog in them though because it would sure move the goalposts, as in ‘Holy c***, these people are crazy, we better lay low, at least for awhile’!

    The downside of course is in that light, for this example, who or what does the Obama Administration work for?

    Uh oh, I feel a conspiracy-twitch coming on….. Dredd, Dredd, where is Dredd when I need him? 🙂

  8. Tony,

    Check out the issues plaguing the democratic caucus in Pennsylvania…… Apparently, 4 or 5 have been charged with this very same issue….. This would have never happened under LBJs watchful eyes…. The IRS would have visited each and every person prosecuting them……

  9. Tony C: “@LottaKatz: Then should a law, once selectively applied, never be applied again?”


    In the world I’d like to live in the answer would be ‘Of course not, laws should be applied with fairness and consistency.’

    I don’t live there though and neither do you. WE have two concurrent examples of the same behavior by politicians (You could switch names and neither one would be in more danger from the law than the other.) and we see what is to me selective prosecution. That’s not justice, not even close. That’s a political tool being used for reasons not immediately obvious beyond politics. I am appalled at the arrogance of the DoJ in these matters. It is an insult to every citizen with a memory longer than 6 months. (Admittedly I am appalled by the DoJ as my starting and coasting position every day but…)

    I can’t even see this matter as a matter of justice or the legal system. I can’t get that far from the threshold of common fairness. It’s about basic fairness. It’s about catching your two kids doing exactly the same wrong thing and swatting one and walking away without a nod to the other. I can’t have any lower of an expectation for the legal system than some measure- some small, visible, lowest common denominator of fairness. IMO it’s absent here.

    It’s really a catch 22 for me, I want the law applied consistently (not a ‘foolish consistency’) but if it’s not going to be then it becomes a tool of oppression and I don’t want it applied at all or applied in an inequitable manner.

    Also, I can distingious between venal and mortal sins, even as an atheist. 🙂 To purport that murder, unpunished for a long time, as practiced by the KKK would invalidate prosecution for future similar murders by the KKK, or by extension for other murders with similar aims if my reasoning is followed is not correct. There’s a big difference between murder and a three card monte, which is what election finance laws have become. I lobby for sanity and equity in a purely political process, not anarchy in general.

    But yes, I know what you are saying and at some point, in a different set of mind and perception I would agree with you unreservedly, support your position and have your back. I enjoy the purity of your arguments and always have and feel great kinship to most of them. That you post here is a delight to me. Having said all that in honesty, I simply do not look at things the same way anymore, in many areas. I, nor you, nor any other of the great unwashed are in a position to compel the government to do it’s job properly and that makes the answer to whatever political question presents somewhat more dicey.

    Remember the debate some decades ago among the philosophers and ‘big thinkers’ regarding “situational ethics” v the more traditional ‘no grey area’ approach to public ethics? For today, with this prosecution, in the context of a longer but non burdensome time frame (6-8 months) I advocate no prosecution. I’m situational that way. It’s probably a moral failing but I can live with that. 🙂

  10. “If he is found guilty, then other politicians will take note: Their political enemies can have them hauled into court for abusing campaign funds, and they will also note that the excuse that the prosecution is politically motivated or salaciously motivated will not let them escape punishment.” (Tony C)

    That is an important point in this discussion and one with which I agree wholeheartedly.

    Wouldn’t it be nice if this prosecution also acted as a deterrent? Ok, now I’m being really naive. 😉

  11. @firefly: And my point is that I don’t care WHY he is being prosecuted, I care WHAT he is being prosecuted for, which is campaign fund abuse.

    If he is found guilty, then other politicians will take note: Their political enemies can have them hauled into court for abusing campaign funds, and they will also note that the excuse that the prosecution is politically motivated or salaciously motivated will not let them escape punishment.

    I think that realization will make the abuse of campaign funds less prevalent, and politicians more careful. And to me, that is the desired outcome.

  12. I bet he is sitting there at counsel table mopping his forelock around, smiling at his supporters in the audience and lookin cute to any women on the jury panel. He might even be workin some of the gay men on the panel. But in North Carolina they are harder to spot than up there at the Willard Hotel–upstairs bar in DC where Edwards used to hang out. He was a member of that Bar Association too.

  13. The point is that many candidates have used money from their campaign coffers for personal expenses, and everyone yawns about it.

    The anger here about Edwards is caused not by his probable use of campaign funds for personal purposes but by what so many of his former supporters feel was his betrayal of their confidence in him as a good and decent man.

    For the Republicans, this is just one more chance to drag a highly visible Democrat through the mud of his life.

    I am certainly NOT excusing Edwards’ extra-marital affair; I am as angry as anyone about that — but THAT is NOT what Edwards is on trial for. He is on trial for misusing campaign funds.

    We might at least keep the focus on his use of campaign funds for personal purposes — and leave the extra-marital affair to another conversation.

    The law does not care if he spent the money on a woman, a yacht, or on a condo in Tahiti; the law he may have broken concerns his using campaign funds for personal purposes. That Edwards may have used campaign money to hide an extra-marital affair just gives the prosecutor something juicy to dangle in front of (and hopefully sway) a jury.

  14. @LottaKatz: Then should a law, once selectively applied, never be applied again?

    Then no laws would ever be applied. Zimmerman (yes, different thread, I know) would walk, because under the SYG laws people have gotten away with murder. Heck, the KKK was getting away with murder, under your standard of “once selectively applied for political reasons, a law no longer matters” the KKK could still be killing people with impunity.

    What I am trying to illustrate here is that the concept of political excuse is flawed. It makes no difference if Edwards is the victim of a political witch hunt if he actually did something wrong, and he did. He broke the law. Those that politically excused Ensign, IMO, also broke the law, but there is no logical reason to conclude that because criminals break the law and get away with it, the law is useless and should be ignored.

    The law is in place as a deterrent to actual harm to the public, and we were harmed. If corrupt politicians let some criminals go, we are still better off if some are prosecuted for crimes no matter what the motivation of the prosecution. Some deterrence is better than none.

  15. While I agree with much of what everyone commenting has said I can not help but recall John Ensign who had an affair with his staffer and then paid off the mistress with money that had come from his parents (alternately stated as severance pay or purely as gifts) and then tried to get the staffer’s husband a lobbying job. The case was sent to the DoJ from the bipartisan (Senate) investigative committee but in December last the DoJ said they would not pursue the possibility of lawbreaking.

    Very similar cases except that Rick Santorum wasn’t trying to negotiate a deal for Edward’s but was knee deep in the Ensign thing even to finally outing the staffer and her husband to FOX news at some point.

    I’m for putting Edward’s in the same cell with Ensign but if the is going to be selective prosecution then why prosecute anyone? it’s an insult to have laws on the books that are no more than political tools to be used selectively.

    I would normally be agreeing with Tony C that if there is a law then it should be applied consistently but frankly, I think that train left the station when Ford pardoned Nixon and it ain’t coming back anytime soon.

  16. If he does not testify and just sits there mopping his forelock to the side and trying to look Johnboy cute then the jury is not going to get to know him enough to like him. So then if he testifies they are going to ask him some tough questions. What I would do if I was the prosecutor is promote the notion on voir dire that we down here in North Carolina are as smart as those folks in Massachusetts. None of us, if we were running for office and millions of dollars were floating around and going into our girlfriend’s pocket would be so preoccupied with John Kerry or the burdens of running for office to not know about it. Although the jury pool will be from across the district, they will have some smart Triangle people on the jury who will be willing to throw this guy under the train. It is one thing to think that you have pinache with a jury when you are up there arguing for some dollars for the victim of a train wreck and another thing to be the cause of a train wreck and sitting there mopping the forelock around trying to look cute. He is toast.

  17. What “rafflaw” said:

    – – – – – –
    While Edward’s actions disgusted me, he should be prosecuted right after the banksters get indicted and right after all of the torture crowd have done the perp walk.
    – – – – – –

    That IS setting priorities.

  18. Tony C.
    You were decrying the unequal enforcement of the law, I am agreeing but suggesting the Justice department should prioritize their actions.

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