Jury to begin deliberations in John Edwards trial
GREENSBORO, North Carolina (CNN) — Jurors were set to begin deliberations Friday in the corruption trial of former Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards.
Edwards is charged with six counts of accepting illegal campaign contributions, conspiracy and falsifying documents. If convicted of all charges, he faces up to 30 years in prison and a $1.5 million fine.
Prosecutors said Edwards “knowingly and willingly” accepted nearly $1 million in contributions from two wealthy donors to hide former mistress Rielle Hunter and her pregnancy, then concealed the donations from the public by filing false and misleading campaign disclosure reports.
Edwards was running for president at the time and knew his political ambitions depended on keeping his affair with Hunter a secret, Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Higdon told jurors in closing arguments Thursday.
“There is no question it would destroy the campaign of John Edwards,” he said.
Defense attorneys, meanwhile, argued that Edwards was guilty of nothing but being a bad husband to his wife, Elizabeth, who has since died. They also argued that former Edwards aide Andrew Young used the money for his own gain and to pay for Hunter’s medical expenses to hide the affair from Edwards’ wife.
Neither Edwards nor Hunter testified during the four-week trial.
Prosecutors argued that Edwards knowingly violated campaign finance laws by accepting the large contributions from Fred Baron and Rachel Mellon that went to support Hunter, Higdon said.
“He knew these rules well,” he said.
Therefore, he should have known that the contributions violated campaign finance laws, Higdon argued.
Edwards accepted $725,000 from Mellon and more than $200,000 from Baron, prosecutors said. The money was used to pay for Hunter’s living and medical expenses, travel and other costs to keep her out of sight while Edwards made his White House run, prosecutors say.
Defense attorneys argued that the donations cannot be considered campaign contributions.
Edwards also manipulated Young and others to help keep the affair out of public view, prosecutors said.
Young testified that he allowed Hunter to move in with him and his wife at Edwards’ request after newspapers began looking into a possible affair within the Edwards campaign.
Young, who initially claimed to be the father of the girl who had actually been fathered by his boss, testified that Mellon was already funding Hunter’s living expenses when he called Baron and complained about the situation.
Baron offered to help out, telling Young to write up Hunter’s expenses so that Baron could reimburse them, the aide testified.
Neither Baron nor Mellon appeared to know that the other was reimbursing Young for the same expenses, raising questions about whether and how much Young may have profited from the situation.
Young acknowledged during the trial that he had used some donations for his own personal benefit, including paying for the construction of a new home.
Another former Edwards aide, speechwriter Wendy Button, testified that Edwards knew Baron was supporting Hunter and her child in 2009.
Defense lawyer Abe Lowell urged jurors to focus on Young’s role in the case, saying he was a biased and unreliable witness with a financial and legal interest in the outcome.
Young, the author of a tell-all book about the Edwards scandal, testified under an agreement with the government in hopes that he will not be prosecuted.
“There is nothing he won’t lie about, nothing,” Lowell said of Young.
Prosecutors agreed that Young made several mistakes over the years, including keeping some of the money, failing to confront Edwards earlier about his behavior and falsely claiming paternity for Edwards’ child with Hunter.
But David Harbach of the U.S. Justice Department’s public integrity section told jurors in a rebuttal argument that Lowell was merely trying to distract jurors from focusing on the charges against Edwards.
“The defense is overplaying their hand,” Harbach said.
CNN’s Ted Metzger, Raelyn Johnson, Adam Reiss, Joe Johns and Michael Martinez contributed to this report.