The Republican former mayor of Raleigh, N.C., said in an interview with Main Justice there is “no question” that federal criminal charges against former Sen. John Edwards were brought for political purposes.
Paul Coble is locked in a bitter Republican primary election battle against former Raleigh U.S. Attorney George Holding for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. The George W. Bush appointee brought the campaign finance case against the two-time former Democratic presidential candidate, staying on two years into the Barack Obama administration to finish the probe and then announcing his bid for Congress a month after Edwards’ indictment last June.
Holding also investigated another prominent Democrat, former North Carolina Gov. Mike Easley, who was convicted in 2010 in a state court of filing a false campaign report. Coble has been critical of the use of taxpayer funds on both prosecutions. Easley in 2010 paid a $1,000 fine and $153 in court costs after admitting he failed to disclose that he took a $1,600 helicopter ride with a supporter in 2006. The Edwards prosecution, meanwhile, has been roundly panned by legal experts as a dangerous overreach of campaign finance laws.
“I think there is no question that Holding thought those two cases would take him to Congress,” Coble, a nephew of the late Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.), told Main Justice on Friday.
Carter Wrenn, an adviser with the Holding campaign, said the former prosecutor denies the Edwards and Easley prosecutions had anything to do with politics. He said Coble’s claims are just his own attempts to win support for his congressional bid.
“It’s just a bunch of politics,” he said. “People say most anything to get themselves elected.”
Edwards is currently on trial in Greensboro on charges that payments by his political patrons to his pregnant mistress, Rielle Hunter, violated federal limits on campaign contributions. Edwards has said the payments, used for Hunter’s living expenses, were personal in nature. The United States has charged that they were unreported political donations because they helped shield Hunter from the media in 2008 while Edwards was running for president.
Edwards has argued that Holding pursued the case against him for political reasons. In a court filing last September, his lawyers noted that the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of North Carolina, Anna Mills Wagoner, logically should have had jurisdiction over the investigation, because her district included Chapel Hill, where both Edwards and an aide implicated in the case, Andrew Young, resided. The Edwards 2008 presidential campaign headquarters also was in Chapel Hill. Instead, Holding in the Eastern District of North Carolina took the reins. “It certainly appears the Bush Justice Department was looking for a way to get this case to Mr. Holding,” the Edwards lawyers asserted.
Holding has denied any political motives in the Edwards case.
Of the Easley case, Coble said: “How much taxpayer money did he [Holding] spend going after the governor and then not even get a slap on the hand?” Coble said prosecutors “didn’t exactly put him away,” which disappointed many North Carolinians who had lost faith in the governor after reports of his personal use of public resources.
Likewise, Edwards is a “horrible person for what he did to his wife and family,” Coble said. “But the real question… is about how valid the charges were against him?”
The Edwards probe might have died a natural death after the 2009 change in presidential administrations. But the Obama administration, apparently concerned about the optics of removing Holding during his investigation of prominent Democrats, allowed him to stay as a U.S. Attorney for two more years. As a Republican appointee, Holding would normally have been expected to move on with a Democrat in the White House.
The Public Integrity Section at Justice Department headquarters in Washington later embraced the Edwards case, taking it over from North Carolina prosecutors.