John Edwards indicted by North Carolina grand jury
A North Carolina grand jury has indicted former Sen. John Edwards on criminal campaign finance violations in connection with a sex scandal.
For the Record, 11:06 a.m. June 3: An earlier version of this article incorrectly gave John Edwards’ age as 58. He is 57.
Edwards, the Democratic nominee for vice president in 2004 and a candidate for president in 2004 and 2008, was charged with four counts of illegal campaign contributions, one count of conspiracy and one count of making false statements. The charges stem from a years-long investigation into whether Edwards used money from two supporters to cover up an affair with Rielle Hunter, a former campaign videographer with whom he had a child.
Prosecutors say the money from Edwards’ supporters to Hunter constituted campaign donations because it furthered his political career. Edwards’ attorneys consider that an improper interpretation of campaign finance laws, and that the case is a matter for the Federal Election Commission, not the courts.
Edwards, 57, is scheduled to appear before a federal magistrate in Winston-Salem, N.C., Friday at 2:30 p.m. EDT. He reportedly had been offered deals to lessen criminal penalties in return for admission of guilt, but he has refused to plead guilty to a felony offense.
“As this indictment shows, we 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,” Assistant Atty. Gen. Lanny Breuer, chief of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, said Friday. “Our campaign finance system is designed to preserve the integrity of democratic elections -- for the presidency and all other elected offices -- and we will vigorously pursue abuses of the kind alleged today.”
Rumors of infidelity dogged Edwards’ 2008 campaign, and he repeatedly denied them. But in January 2010 he acknowledged that he was the father of Frances Quinn Hunter, now 3. His marriage to the late Elizabeth Edwards collapsed as a result.
The money Edwards is alleged to have used to cover up his affair came from his national campaign finance chairman, Fred Baron, who died in 2008, and banking heiress Rachel “Bunny” Mellon, who is 100.
The government alleges that Edwards, in the interests of protecting his political career and his image as a “devoted family man,” engaged in a conspiracy with unnamed others to conspire to accept campaign contributions in excess of federal limits and conceal those contributions from the FEC.
The scheme, as the indictment states, was an effort to hide Edwards’ affair with Hunter and conceal that Edwards fathered her child. Hunter is identified only as “Person B” in the indictment, with former Edwards aide Andrew Young, who initially claimed publicly that he was the father of Hunter’s daughter, identified as “Person A.”
Without identifying Mellon or Baron, the indictment states that Edwards accepted more than $900,000 solicited from two wealthy supporters and used the funds to pay Hunter’s living expenses. The government identified seven checks allegedly sent by Mellon (identified as “Person C”) to support Hunter, and nine instances in which Baron (“Person D”) allegedly paid for Hunter’s travel and living expenses.
Edwards’ lawyers released a statement from Scott E. Thomas, a former chairman of the FEC, who was retained as an expert for the defense team. Thomas said even if the facts as alleged by the government are proven true, Edwards committed no crime.
“These payments would not be considered to be either campaign contributions or campaign expenditures within the meaning of the campaign finance laws,” Thomas said. “The facts do not make out a knowing and willful violation of the campaign finance laws warranting criminal prosecution.”
Thomas called the government’s prosecutorial theory “without precedent in federal election law.”
North Carolina Sen. Kay Hagan said in a statement: “First and foremost, my thoughts and prayers are with the Edwards’ children, Cate, Emma Claire and Jack. They have endured so much pain during the last year, including the passing of their remarkable mother, Elizabeth.”
Staff writer Robin Abcarian contributed to this report.