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Politics & Government
Fri May 11, 2012
Prosecution Rests In Edwards Case
John Edwards' fall from political prominence has continued in recent weeks, during his trial at a federal courthouse in Greensboro. After 24 witnesses and a more than a hundred pieces of evidence, the government has completed its case accusing Edwards of violating campaign finance law.
Jeff Tiberii: There have been contentious exchanges, tearful testimony, and even a few jurors dozing off … During the first 14 days at the John Edwards Trial the government presented its case that the handsome well-off, trial attorney turned presidential candidate committed multiple counts of campaign finance violations. Underneath the tawdry and salacious details are the merits of the charges. The prosecution alleges Edwards was part of a plan to hide his mistress Rielle Hunter and the child he fathered with her, by using more than 930 thousand dollars from two wealthy donors. When the government rested its case on Thursday afternoon, the obvious question was: had it done enough?
Steven Friedland: Jury's like smoking guns. There's no smoking gun here.
Steven Friedland is a law professor at Elon University and a former Federal prosecutor.
Friedland: It's a circumstantial case. There are a lot of records - credit card records, emails. There are trails here to what actually occurred. The jury is going to have to decide if it believes a lot of this is coincidence or whether this fits the picture of someone who was just trying to advance their career.
The men and women who will decide Edwards fate were frequently reminded of his failures as a husband and politician. Numerous aides detailed the relationship between Hunter and Edwards on the campaign trail. The jury heard from Edwards when old voicemails were played in court. They even saw him lie during a 2008 interview with ABC - the final piece of evidence the prosecution presented. What the jurors didn't see was any evidence explicitly linking Edwards to that money, some of which was used to hide Hunter. A key question is whether or not that money was a private gift, or a campaign contribution.
Hampton Dellinger: It's going to be hard for this case to stand under this statute, the federal election campaign act, which requires a knowing and willful violation.
That's Hampton Dellinger, a lawyer who used to teach Campaign Election Law at Duke University. He says based on the evidence presented so far Edwards doesn't appear to having knowingly broken federal campaign election law.
Dellinger: He always thought it was proper, it was legal. So for the government to show criminal intent as the statute requires, was very difficult.
Government witnesses included former Edwards staff members, associates to donor Rachel "Bunny" Mellon, and officials from the federal election commission and FBI. But several key figures didn't take the stand. Mellon wasn't compelled to testify because she's 101-years old and legally blind. Fred Baron, who also provided hundreds of thousands of dollars to hide Hunter, passed away three years ago. Rielle Hunter was on the prosecution's witness list, but was not called.
The prosecution's key witness was Andrew Young, an aide to Edwards who received hundreds of thousands of dollars from Mellon and was once so loyal to the Senator, that he initially claimed paternity of Edwards child. Young spent parts of five days on the stand and in the end his credibility was left in significant question after the defense pointed out he kept most of the money provided to him by Mellon.
There is another potential key witness in this case. At the courthouse many wonder if the man who made a career out of winning over juries, will try to do it again.
Hampton Dellinger and professor Friedland have opposing views:
Dellinger: Given that he may be the best lawyer still in the room. And he took a huge gamble to take this case to trial, I'd be surprised if we don't see him take the stand.
Friedland: I do not think we will see John Edwards testify. I think that that presents to big a target for the prosecution.
The burden of proof rests with the government and looking ahead the defense isn't required to call any witnesses or present any evidence. But they are expected to do so, beginning on Monday.