A federal grand jury has indicted former senator and Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards in connection with large amounts of money paid to his mistress to keep their affair hidden during his 2008 presidential campaign.
Edwards was indicted on charges of conspiracy, four counts of illegal campaign contributions and one count of false statements. The campaign contributions in question are hundreds of thousands of dollars given to his mistress Rielle Hunter and aide Andrew Young. Edwards was indicted in the Middle District of North Carolina, but his indictment was announced by Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer and George E.B. Holding of the Eastern District of North Carolina.
Main Justice reported Thursday that Holding was likely to be out of a job after the completion of the Edwards case.
Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) has held up Thomas Gray Walker, President Barack Obama’s nominee for Eastern District of North Carolina U.S. Attorney, over concerns about Walker’s connections to Edwards and former Gov. Mike Easley (D).
North Carolina’s Democratic senator, Kay Hagan also didn’t support replacing Holding while his probe of Edwards was ongoing. In 2009, she took the unusual step of asking the White House to delay movement on Walker’s nomination, even though she had recommended him for the job.
The Edwards indictment states that during his presidential campaign, Edwards accepted more than $900,000 as part of a cover up. The funds allegedly were used to facilitate the affair and hide the affair, as well as Hunter’s pregnancy. The money was also used to provide Hunter with living expenses, according to the charges, which state that Edwards knew that if the affair was revealed, it would undermine his presidential campaign.
However, the Edwards defense team released statements contending that the payments were not campaign contributions. In one statement, former Federal Election Commission Chairman Scott E. Thomas said he met with prosecutors last month to share his views.
“It is my view that, under the law as developed by the United States courts and the Federal Election Commission, these payments would not be considered to be either campaign contributions or campaign expenditures within the meaning of the campaign finance laws; that the Federal Election Commission, if asked, would conclude that these payments did not constitute a violation of the law, even as a civil matter; and that the facts do not make out a knowing and willful violation of the campaign finance laws warranting criminal prosecution,” Thomas said in the statement that repeats what he told prosecutors.
Thomas also said that there have been no cases to support the contention that the payments that donors made to Hunter were campaign contributions.
In another statement, Pat Fiori, a former FEC staffer and a staffer for the 2004 and 2008 Edwards campaign said, she too believes that the payments were not campaign contributions.
The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Robert J. Higdon Jr. and Brian S. Meyers of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of North Carolina, as well as Deputy Chief Justin V. Shur and Trial Attorneys David V. Harbach II and Jeffrey E. Tsai of the Public Integrity Section in the Justice Department’s Criminal Division. The case is being investigated by the FBI and IRS-CI.
The case will be another test for DOJ’s Public Integrity Section, which has had its share of problems during the past few years. A federal judge in Alabama blasted attorneys from the section in April, saying that they had delayed delivering evidence to the defense in a bribery case. The section also worked on the beleaguered Alaska corruption case in which charges against former Republican Sen. Ted Stevens were dropped for withholding evidence. A preliminary draft of a DOJ Office of Professional Responsibility report concluded that two Assistant U.S. Attorneys engaged in misconduct. However, none of the attorneys working on the Edwards case came under fire in the bungled Stevens prosecution.