Former Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards is being prosecuted because he violated federal law, not because of some political vendetta, the Justice Department says in documents filed in federal court this week.
The filing comes in response to Edwards’ contention that he is being prosecuted because George E.B. Holding, the former U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of North Carolina is a conservative Republican. Holding is now running for a U.S. House seat from North Carolina.
But DOJ officials said that the case was not only handled by Holding, but by career prosecutors in Washington. And they say that Holding and other DOJ officials made a decision not to pursue the Edwards case until after the 2008 election, fearing allegations that they were attempting to influence the election by prosecuting Edwards.
Edwards, a former Democratic Senator from North Carolina, is accused of using about $1 million in undisclosed payments from his campaign finance chairman and a wealthy 98-year-old widow to cover up an affair during his 2008 run for the White House.
He has pleaded not guilty. A trial is scheduled to begin in January.
“This case is about politics,” Edwards argued in his filing with the Middle District of North Carolina federal court. “Politics can be a rough-and-tumble business where partisan interests collide, but that is not supposed to be true of the criminal justice system.” Among the evidence of political motivation, Edwards’ lawyers say: prosecutors asked irrelevant questions of grand jurors designed to poison Edwards in their minds, and an unexplained maneuver that gave Holding authority to investigate Edwards even though another U.S. Attorney had jurisdiction.
As Main Justice previously reported Holding emerged from the conservative political network surrounding the late Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.), who’d been a bitter enemy of Edwards. Holding had been a political donor to North Carolina Republicans, including Sen. Lauch Faircloth, whom Edwards defeated in 1998 to win his Senate seat.
But prosecutors scoffed at the notion that Edwards is being prosecuted for political reasons. “At bottom, all of Edwards’ political speculation boils down to a complaint that he is a Democrat and that one of the prosecutors who approved the charges against him is a Republican,” DOJ officials said.
They continued, “Edwards’ motion is based entirely on speculative political theories and unfortunate attacks aimed at former United States Attorney George Holding, and largely ignores the fact that the investigation was
conducted entirely by career prosecutors in the United States Attorney’s Office and the Public Integrity Section of the Department of Justice’s Criminal Division, and that this joint prosecution was approved by the Public Integrity Section and the Criminal Division.”
They added that prosecutors, including Holding “determined that any overt investigative effort might be seen as attempting to influence the outcome of the ongoing presidential election.”