Justice Department moving toward charges in Edwards case
May 25th, 2011
05:10 PM ET
12 years ago

Justice Department moving toward charges in Edwards case

Washington (CNN) – Following news that the Justice Department is moving towards a possible indictment of former presidential candidate and Sen.John Edwards, his defense attorney Wednesday asserted his client’s innocence and said a prosecution is unwarranted.

“John Edwards has done wrong in his life – and he knows it better than anyone – but he did not break the law,” attorney Greg Craig said in a statement late Wednesday.

Craig went on to attack the Justice Department’s handling of the case. “The government’s theory is wrong on the facts and wrong on the law. It is novel and untested. There is no civil or criminal precedent for such a prosecution.”

The Justice Department has authorized prosecutors to bring charges in the case which involves financial support given to Edwards’ mistress and whether there was a violation of campaign law, two sources familiar with the case told CNN.

An indictment could be averted if prosecutors and lawyers for Edwards reach a plea deal.

Edwards is now considering his options, one source with knowledge of the investigation told CNN.

The government wants Edwards to plead guilty to a felony, but he doesn't want to do that because he would lose his law license, a source close to the Edwards family told CNN. Edwards has talked to friends and associates about wanting to start a public interest law firm, and "doesn't want to lose his license, not to mention he is terrified of going to jail," the source added.

Since 2009, a federal grand jury in North Carolina has been investigating payments made to Rielle Hunter, Edwards' mistress, who worked as a videographer for his campaign. Edwards fathered an out of wedlock baby with Hunter while he was married. The grand jury has been investigating whether the payments should be considered un-reported campaign donations. Lawyers for Edwards have argued they should not be.

“The government originally investigated allegations that Senator Edwards’ campaign’s funds were misused but continued its pursuit even after finding that not one penny from the Edwards campaign was involved. The Justice Department has wasted millions of dollars and thousands of hours on a matter more appropriately a topic for the Federal Election Commission to consider, not a criminal court,” Craig said in his statement.

The Justice Department had no comment Wednesday on the Edwards probe.

Whatever the outcome, a resolution to the two year investigation by the government is expected "soon," the source with knowledge of the investigation said Wednesday.

Both sources refused to speak on the record because of the sensitivity of the matter.

The source close to the family describes Edwards' legal team as "solid people" who are trying to convince him to take a plea and get a better offer by suggesting the government's case isn't as strong as the federal prosecution team might think. The source said Edwards' defense lawyers hope to still sway the government to offer Edwards a better deal.

The Edwards legal team had hoped that the Justice Department would end up not pursuing charges.

Much of the government's case appears centered on a former aide. In his tell-all book "The Politician," former Edwards staffer Andrew Young wrote that heiress Rachel "Bunny" Mellon gave Edwards a gift of $700,000 that was used to cover-up the affair with Hunter, a video producer for the campaign who was pregnant with the former senator's child. Mellon's attorneys have previously said she thought she was just helping a friend, didn't know what the money was meant for and that she did nothing wrong.

Edwards declined to comment Tuesday to CNN affiliate WRAL-TV of Raleigh, North Carolina.

Young told WRAL in 2010 that Mellon did not know how her money was used, but said the money went toward flights and to pay rent for Hunter's California home while Young pretended to be the father of Hunter's child.

Edwards later admitted he fathered the child.

Edwards told ABC's Nightline in 2008 he never paid a dime to any of the people involved in the scandal and never asked any money to be paid to the those involved.

–CNN Chief National Correspondent John King contributed to this report

You can follow Kevin Bohn on Twitter @KevinBohnCNN

Updated 6:28 p.m.

Filed under: John Edwards • Rielle Hunter
soundoff (203 Responses)
  1. mattmchugh

    Rocco – This isn't about a judging a man's moral failing in having an affair, but upholding the law about how a candidate may or may not use campaign donations. You can't give money that donors give you to your friends. You can pay your staffer with it, but can't just pass it on. It's incumbent on Edwards to prove the $700,000 was simply payment for videographer service. It's not an outrageous sum - if you factor in travel and equipment and additional personnel - but it's suspect, and he's got to justify it.

    The law doesn't care who he slept with; it cares who he bribed.

    - mm

    May 25, 2011 02:24 pm at 2:24 pm |
  2. magnus

    wow, you could not script a more dark novel. Politician gets lady pregnant, uses campaign money to cover it up, and then tries to convince one of his aids to take the blame for the pregnancy. this guy has lost touch with reality.

    May 25, 2011 02:25 pm at 2:25 pm |
  3. CS_GUY

    This truly is a race issue. Edwards is white and the Black Panthers are obviously black. What's the correlation? The person deciding who gets charged and who doesn't: Eric Holder – now whats the tie in between Holder and the Panthers? Naw, couldn't be.................same race? Alive and well in America at its highest levels of Government. Not saying Edwards shouldn't be prosecuted, just highlighting who has never been charged for intimidation during the 2008 elections. Soon, all involved will understand the true meaning of the word justice.

    May 25, 2011 02:27 pm at 2:27 pm |
  4. shilpy

    he had a real nice wife.

    May 25, 2011 02:27 pm at 2:27 pm |
  5. ruderal

    Aww,...... forget about Edwards and get on with prosecuting stupid american politicians in the legislature that signed illegal immigration welfare into law!!!!!!!!. do you people realize the illegal mexicans have been receiving government aid of school grants and housing welfare along with birther right's of illegal immigrant women that are expecting and it allowed them to get on united states welfare system's of medical and other aid summing up to thousands of dollars per month. we the people need to prosecute the politicians that signed that into law. so the illegal's had government health care, housing, school grant's and free medical to have their baby here in our hospitals and we the people have to put up with crooked politicians that actually signed it into law!!!!!!!!!???????. it's time the people of the united states started prosecuting politicians for this sort of thing!. ASAP!

    May 25, 2011 02:27 pm at 2:27 pm |

    This case really begs the question doesn't it?

    May 25, 2011 02:28 pm at 2:28 pm |
  7. obama Girl

    whoose next? might just be Arnold. would serve him right!

    May 25, 2011 02:28 pm at 2:28 pm |
  8. MrsFizzy

    This is the definition of a low-down dirty shame. Not only his wife had cancer, he (looks likely) used campaign donations to cover up his affair AND then he denied that the baby was his ... and that Rielle is still with him?! And Den, by the way – I'm a liberal saying that. If only men on a power trip every where would get a wake-up call that they are NOT going to get away with it! Arnie, DSK, John Edwards, I don't care who they are!

    May 25, 2011 02:29 pm at 2:29 pm |
  9. Name: Roberto, laborer, father of two.

    Why is the government taking millions of tax payer's money to persecute a miserable $700k. As far as I'm concern the cheating, fathering out of wedlock is a history old contition. Edwards was not the first one nor the last one to commit adultery. I hire my officials to run a country not to be heroes and try to eliminate a human behavior which is part of humanity.

    Please stop taking food away from my kids mouths in the form of more taxes while they expend it prosecuting no marrit cases. Just slap Edwards with a fine and use the rest of the money to spent in the trial for a better cause like helping me send my kids to college.

    May 25, 2011 02:30 pm at 2:30 pm |
  10. M-AZ


    I couldn't agree with you more. I am so sick of people judging and condeming other people. Life is complicated and human beings are very complicated, but for some reason the people on this blog feel as if they can read a man's heart and know for a certainty his motivation; I thought God could only do that...John Edwards lost his opportunity to become president because of this scandal, but it does not mean he is a bad father, lawyer, or otherwise decent person. It means he is human.

    Personally, I hope this mess goes away for him, and he can raise his children like any other caring parent who is trying to do the same. Leave the man a lone already. Best wishes to you, Mr. Edwards and your family! God knows our Government should not position itself as a moral authority.

    May 25, 2011 02:30 pm at 2:30 pm |
  11. burkins

    Ithink stress add to an illness and he killed his wife. he will get his just reward.elizabeth said he is still the father of my chidren. so fry him!!!!!!!!!!!!

    May 25, 2011 02:30 pm at 2:30 pm |
  12. Name chris lund

    I don't see how any felon is committed? I mean he had an affair an had wealthy friends who helped a girl who got prego. This a felony why? Millions of americans have made this mistake they just haven't had the benefit of knowing the mellons. I don't see the ensign affair as a big deal either . We have 2wars that need 2be ended and maybe a 3rd starting. We should be trying solve our way out generational crises of bancrupting conflicts and economy and energy policy that doesn't work. Who cares about affairs. Get a paperback.

    May 25, 2011 02:31 pm at 2:31 pm |
  13. welltraveledamerican

    Regardless of his service to his country and his family situation, or who did or did not get off on unlawful acts, he took an oath to both his country and his family. He broke his oath and must now suffer the consequences. Being an American and a family man is a privilege. Be a man and live up to your mistakes by accepting the consequences. Quit wasting tax dollars to buck the system. Obama 2012!

    May 25, 2011 02:31 pm at 2:31 pm |
  14. Bob

    No crime?!? He is alleged to have STOLEN money from his election campaign in order to keep his mistress quiet. That sounds like a crime against everyone in the country since he also received federal matching funds. And what he did to his wife was the lowest of low moral crimes. Charges can't come soon enough in my opinion. I just hope the 'deal' he is seeking doesn't keep him out of the big house.

    May 25, 2011 02:32 pm at 2:32 pm |
  15. Anonymous

    Fools, thats what we have become.

    May 25, 2011 02:33 pm at 2:33 pm |
  16. Carol

    It infuriates me that our justice department is quick to sue Edwards and yet Bush, Rove, Cheney, Rumsfeld are allowed to go free of any lawsuit for starting an illegal war and so many other criminal acts that killed millions of innocent Iraqis and thousands of our soldiers.

    May 25, 2011 02:33 pm at 2:33 pm |
  17. KING

    As a Democrat, I say flog him raw. No-good s.o.b

    May 25, 2011 02:33 pm at 2:33 pm |
  18. unretired05

    If they would have had a PAC/ superpac like now it would have been fine. Thanks SCOTUS..

    May 25, 2011 02:33 pm at 2:33 pm |
  19. foreign traveler

    First to Chinese Guy: No i do not have to admit that!!

    Secondly, maybe Arnold and Edwards can get a group discount from a law firm.

    May 25, 2011 02:34 pm at 2:34 pm |
  20. ruderal

    And if you think I'm off topic, just take a look at what problems of our societies CNN does not cover!. leave Edwards alone and get on with ending the government's injustice to it's own people. Why don't CNN go after the crooked lawmaker's nomologist's and politicians that illegally conspired to aid and abet illegal immigrants.

    May 25, 2011 02:34 pm at 2:34 pm |
  21. Brad`

    Ahem. A public interest law firm is now his dream? Does he think we were all born yesterday? A self-described narcissicist would have no interest in that unless it serves HIS interests. And, it does here, given the problems Mr. Edwards is facing.

    May 25, 2011 02:34 pm at 2:34 pm |
  22. Uh oh

    hmmm....looks like someone shouldn't have been talking crap about big corporations and trying to go after rich people. Let this be a lesson to the next one. Give up yet?

    May 25, 2011 02:36 pm at 2:36 pm |
  23. lw

    If Edwards were actually a member of Congress or President, I could see persuing the fact that he may or may not have used campaign money to support his mistress. But since he was neither at the time of the of the accusation, and is not one now, I say let's just drop it. The man is already publicly ruined. Have him repay the money and move on.

    May 25, 2011 02:36 pm at 2:36 pm |
  24. Debra

    I have worked for attorneys for about 30 years, and long ago, to my great dismay and utter surprise, learned that many of them are truly of the belief they are above the law. They do have a highly noticeable tendency to be very cocky about themselves as compared to the regular populace. I have seen attorneys get in trouble for various illegalities for this reason, e.g., tax evasion, fraud, trust fund dipping, & sexual harassment in the workplace. Several of them have gotten away with their shanegans altogether and have never been caught. In short, as to Mr. Edwards, he obviously believed he too was above the law and would never be questioned, much less caught.

    May 25, 2011 02:37 pm at 2:37 pm |
  25. Dennis

    If Edwards isn't charged, nobody will ever be charged.

    May 25, 2011 02:38 pm at 2:38 pm |
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