Monday, May 14, 2012 at 9:32 AM

The Prosecution of John Edwards

Posted by Anthony L. Hall

Former presidential candidate John Edwards gained a great deal of political mileage by pretending to be a devoted husband to his cancer-stricken wife Elizabeth. Now he’s being prosecuted for allegedly using campaign funds to keep his mistress and their bastard child a secret – not so much from his wife as from voters who were buying into his charade of a family life.

After the prosecution rested on Friday, legal (and political) pundits were all over TV opining that the defense had so discredited Andrew Young, the star witness for the prosecution, that Edwards would be acquitted. Some of them even suggested wistfully that Edwards still has enough charm left to convince the jury that that mountain of evidence proving his infidelity, mendacity, and venality merely reflects his chivalrous efforts to spare his terminally ill wife any undue emotional distress.  

By contrast, in The Indictment of John Edwards (June 7, 2011), I predicted that he would be found guilty. I even charged Elizabeth as an unindicted co-conspirator because she not only knew about his cheating but was complicit in his illegal efforts to conceal it from unsuspecting voters.

Accordingly, instead of joining the chorus of those now speculating about the outcome of his trial, I shall suffice to reprise that June 2011 commentary as a means of reiterating my belief that the jury will not buy into his defense – even if his terminal conceit misleads him into taking the stand to present it himself.  


The reason this was so shocking is that Edwards had endeared himself to millions of voters by presenting himself as a faithful and loving husband who was supporting his wife Elizabeth through her heroic battle against cancer.

Never mind that he cravenly used his wife’s illness as a campaign tool to win sympathy and shield himself from any further media scrutiny into his private life. This SOB even had her all over TV attacking his opponents, knowing full well that none of them would fight back against a woman stricken with cancer.

(John Edwards caught cheating on his wife, The iPINIONS Journal, July 23, 2008)

This was how I expressed just a little of the contempt I felt for John Edwards after the National Enquirer exposed him as a cheating dog who had even fathered a child with his mistress, Rielle Hunter. However, because I’d chronicled so much hypocrisy in his public life, I was not nearly as shocked as others when he turned out to be a hypocrite in his private life as well.

Here, in part, is what I wrote in this respect – adding for context that this guy should be a car salesman because he gives politicians (and lawyers) a bad name:

Even the most cynical political commentators could not ignore the hypocrisy of Edwards showing up [in New Orleans] just for one day to decry the fact that – more than a year after Katrina – these long-suffering people are still struggling to rebuild their lives of quiet desperation.

Because during all this time, instead of traveling to lend a helping hand (like so many people who are genuinely concerned about the gap between the “two Americas” did), Edwards was busy watching contractors build a mansion on his plantation in North Carolina that is so, well, presidential, it would turn both George Ws (i.e., Washington and Bush) green with envy.

(Edwards is running for president … again, The iPINIONS Journal, December 29, 2006)

Given all of this, you can be forgiven for thinking that I’m celebrating the six-count indictment a federal grand jury handed down against Edwards on Friday. But I’m not.

The indictment accuses him of conspiracy, taking illegal campaign contributions, and making false statements – all in an effort to conceal his affair and lovechild.

[W]e will not permit candidates for high office to abuse their special ability to access the coffers of their political supporters to circumvent our election laws.

(Attorney General Lanny Breuer, head of the Justice Department’s criminal division, Associated Press, June 3, 2011)

And, as indicated above, the abuse alleged in this case is particularly contemptible because he allegedly did all of this while running for president in 2008 and posing as a devoted husband to his terminally ill wife – who ended up dying last year not just of cancer, but of a broken heart.

Nevertheless, there are two main reasons why I’m not celebrating:

The first is that this case reeks of selective prosecution. Because even if all of the allegations are true, and I believe they are, it is equally true that all presidential candidates have “abused their special ability to access the coffers of their supporters” to fund all kinds of personal matters. So this is rather like making a federal case out of a jaywalking violation.

Even worse, the feds are predicating their entire case on the claim that Edwards used almost one million dollars in campaign donations from just two wealthy donors to cover up this affair. For it’s bad enough that one of those donors, Rachel ‘Bunny’ Mellon (who donated nearly $750,000), is 100 years old, and too sick to testify; but the other donor, Fred Baron, is dead.

Of course, even if they could testify, these donors would probably claim that they considered the sums at issue legal gifts to a personal friend to help him cover up a personal indiscretion. (“That’s what friends are for”….)

Hell, another personal friend, Andrew Young, was so determined to help cover up this affair that he persuaded his wife that they should claim they were the parents of Edwards’s lovechild. Never mind that he has since fallen out with Edwards and now has more than an axe to grind as star witness for the prosecution.

The point is that it’s arguable Edwards wanted to keep his affair a secret as much to save his marriage as to save his campaign: hardly honorable, but entirely credible.

In any case, the feds are clearly relying on the just conviction Edwards has already suffered in the court of public opinion to inform and influence jury deliberations at trial. But Edwards did not earn his reputation as a formidable trial lawyer for nothing. Because here is the shrewd way he’s already beginning to undermine their strategy:

There’s no question that I’ve done wrong. And I take full responsibility for having done wrong. And I will regret for the rest of my life the pain and the harm that I’ve caused to others. But I did not break the law, and I never, ever thought I was breaking the law.

(Associated Press, June 3, 2011)

Showing contrition and taking responsibility for his utterly repugnant behavior, yet insisting that he’s no intentional law breaker: brilliant! Moreover, if I were on the jury, I would resent the feds wasting millions of dollars trying to throw him in prison for being just another scumbag politician … no different from Arnold Schwarzenegger and far too many others.

(Reports are that Edwards was happy to plead to all of his wrongdoing, provided that he was sentenced only to probation and a commensurate fine. But the feds insisted not only on jail time but also on the revocation of his law license, which the man would need when he got out to support his family.)

The second main reason I’m not celebrating is that the people most hurt by his cheating are clearly not celebrating the legal comeuppance he’s now facing. Indeed, nobody can deny that the implosion of his once-sterling political career and the merciless public humiliation he’s suffered are punishment enough.

In other words, if I thought for a moment that Edwards ending up in jail would provide justice for his dead wife, I too would be celebrating his indictment and even praying for a conviction.

But here is what I was compelled to write some time ago about her presumed victimization:

My sympathy for her turned into dismay when the Enquirer reported that, despite knowing all about the affair, she went on to become his most ardent and passionate campaigner. Now that dismay is turning into contempt as I watch her trying to cast herself as a profile in courage in a new memoir entitled Resilience.

After all, that title is plainly misleading. Not least because the only thing resilient about Elizabeth seems to be her determination to serve as an enabler – not only of her husband’s venal and narcissistic ambition, but also of his unconscionable ploy to disown his lovechild.

(Elizabeth Edwards standing by her man, The iPINIONS Journal, May 6, 2009)

Meanwhile, despite rumors about her plans to divorce him, they were still married when she died more than two years after his affair and all of its tawdry details became public. This suggests that Elizabeth would still be standing by her man, even throughout this ordeal. And it seems from her appearance in court on Friday that their 30-year-old daughter Cate (as pictured above) is now standing there in her stead.

I rest my case.

Now, having said all that, if this goes to trial (since Edwards and the feds still could/should settle), I predict he will be convicted on at least one count (just for being a scumbag as indicated above), he will serve jail time (at least two years), and he will lose his law license. Hey, he made his bed….

Related commentaries:
John Edwards caught cheating on his wife
Edwards is running for president

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