Government attorneys argued Monday at a federal courthouse in North Carolina that Edwards, the former senator and failed Democratic presidential candidate, knew two wealthy contributors had provided the nearly $1 million to hide his pregnant mistress. They described Edwards as a "master manipulator" and said the donations were tantamount to "campaign contributions" intended to preserve Edwards' "family man" image during his 2008 campaign.
Andrew Young, a former campaign worker who testified in exchange for immunity, told the court about a meeting he attended with one of the two wealthy Edwards supporters, Rachel "Bunny" Mellon.
"I'm going to do everything I can to help you become president of the United States," Mellon told Edwards, according to Young.
But the defense argued the donations were merely "private money" intended to protect Edwards' family from embarrassment. Edwards' lawyers told jurors most of the money, which was handled by former campaign staffer Andrew Young, went toward building Young's new house in Chapel Hill, N.C.
The day of opening arguments comes more than four years after Edwards ended his Democratic presidential bid and went on to watch his reputation crumble under the weight of the emerging scandal. He has gone from battling reporters to battling prosecutors who seized upon the scheme as an alleged campaign finance breach. While the lurid details of his affair dominated the headlines going into the summer of 2008, the focus of the trial is the money trail.
At issue is whether the $1 million in donations was intended to help his campaign or whether it was merely intended to prevent his wife and children from finding out about the affair. That could make the difference in whether the jury determines the money was an illegal campaign contribution, as prosecutors argue, or whether the money represented some very generous personal gifts.
...Edwards is accused of conspiring to solicit the funds and faces six felony counts -- each carrying a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. He has pleaded not guilty.
...Edwards denies having known about the money, which paid for private jets, luxury hotels and Hunter's medical care. Abbe Lowell, the well-known Washington lawyer who is representing Edwards, has said that even had Edwards known about the secret payments, his actions wouldn't amount to a crime under federal law. Lowell has said in court that the government's case relies on flawed legal reasoning, that the grand jury process was tainted and that the Republican federal prosecutor who led the investigation was motivated by partisanship.
But prosecutors will seek to prove he sought and directed the payments to cover up his affair, protect his public image as a "family man" and keep his presidential hopes viable.
There was something always seemed slimy about John Edwards. Now we know, based on the allegations. But what this story left out is how the lapdog media ignored it. The story was broken by the National Enquirer.
If it's proven that Edwards knew about the money and was involved in the whole scheme, it's not going to be "white collar resort prison."