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Edwards Trial Opens in Latest High-Profile Public Integrity Prosecution
Posted By Elizabeth Murphy On April 13, 2012 @ 2:03 pm In News | Comments Disabled
John Edwards, the former North Carolina senator who ran for president and vice president before falling into disgrace, went on trial on Thursday on charges he broke campaign-finance laws, putting the spotlight once again on the Justice Department’s Public Integrity Section.
In what will probably be the highest-profile case for the section since the botched prosecution of former Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska, section attorneys will try to convict Edwards of violating campaign-finance regulations and accepting illegal contributions to hide his relationship with a campaign aide while his wife, Elizabeth, was fighting a losing battle with cancer.
The DOJ has been accused of over-reaching in going after Edwards. But no matter how the trial turns out, he seems certain to be remembered for his dizzying downfall. He went from a multimillionaire plaintiffs’ lawyer and political star to a man whose image was irrevocably tarnished as he betrayed his wife and friends, many of whom want nothing more to do with him, according to an account  in The Washington Post.
The prosecution has been fraught with accusations that the department is playing politics — an assertion the DOJ categorically denies. In October, U.S. District Judge Catherine Eagles refused to dismiss charges against the former senator, saying a jury should decide on Edwards’ contention  that George E.B. Holding, the former U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of North Carolina was prosecuting him to advance his own political career. Holding, a Republican, is now running for a U.S. House seat in North Carolina. Justice Department attorneys have argued  that the case is anything but political.
The case has faced criticism beyond the arguments in the courtroom and legal filings. A government watchdog group penned a blog post  Thursday, titled “Misplaced Priorities at the Justice Department,” which calls the merits of the prosecution into question. Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington filed  an amicus brief last year calling for the case to be dismissed.
“If he is convicted, it will open the way for spurious prosecutions of people with far better moral character,” CREW wrote in its Thursday post. “At the same time, it could open the floodgates for politicians to charge personal expenses to their campaigns.”
The PIN prosecution team has undergone some minor changes after the section deputy chief Justin Shur left  for private practice in January. Still on the case are PIN trial attorneys David Harbach and Jeffrey Tsai. And as part of procedural routine, section chief Jack Smithis also listed as the case supervisor on court documents. A Justice Department spokeswoman said she could not confirm if any of the Main Justice prosecutors would be in the North Carolina courtroom Thursday, but news reports have indicated Harbach has previously appeared at pretrial hearings.
North Carolina Assistant U.S. Attorneys Robert J. Higdon, Jr., the office’s criminal division chief, and Brian S. Meyers are also assisting in the prosecution.
Harbach was involved in the successful prosecution of former Virginia House of Delegates member Phillip Hamilton, who was convicted  last summer of bribery and extortion. He was also on the prosecution team that won a corruption conviction  against Fraser Verrusio, a congressional staffer involved in the Jack Abramoff scandal. Harbach is a graduate of Duke University and Harvard Law school, and he became a member of the Texas bar in 1998.
Tsai came to the Public Integrity Section after a year-long stint as senior counsel to the Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division. Before that, he was an Assistant U.S. Attorney in the Southern District of Florida where he served as deputy chief of the major crimes section. He’s a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin and the Georgetown University Law Center. While an AUSA, Tsai was involved in the prosecution  of a large-scale mortgage fraud take down, in addition to the conviction  of a Miami man who orchestrated a multi-million dollar Ponzi scheme.
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