John Edwards indicted on felony charges in affair cover-up

Holly Bailey
The Ticket

A federal grand jury has indicted John Edwards on charges he illegally used political donations to cover up an affair with a former aide to his 2008 presidential campaign.

According to the Associated Press's Mike Baker and Nedra Pickler, Edwards was indicted on six criminal charges, including conspiracy, four counts of illegal campaign contributions and one charge of making a false statement. The indictment comes after a more than two-year investigation into Edwards' campaign spending.

You can read the indictment here, courtesy the Raleigh News & Observer.

As The Ticket previously reported, the case centers on cash Edwards received from two longtime political benefactors that was later used to conceal his affair with Rielle Hunter, a videographer for his 2008 presidential campaign who later gave birth to his child.

At issue is whether those donations--estimated to be at least $925,000--should count as campaign contributions. In the indictment, federal prosecutors argue the cash should be considered donations to Edwards' 2008 campaign because the money was given to protect his image at the height of his second Democratic presidential bid. The indictment alleges Edwards knowingly broke the law by secretly soliciting the contributions, which exceeded federal campaign limits, and then using the cash to hide Hunter and her pregnancy.

"Edwards knew that that public revelation of the affair and pregnancy would destroy his candidacy by, among other things, undermining Edwards' presentation of himself as a family man," the indictment reads.

But Edwards' attorneys have contended that the contributions were merely "gifts" and that the government's case is flimsy.

"Edwards will tell the court he is innocent of all charges and will plead not guilty," Greg Craig, the former candidate's attorney, said in a statement to reporters. "He did not break the law and will mount a vigorous defense."

(UPDATE, 3:40pm EST: Edwards admits mistakes, but insists he "did not break the law.")

Yet prosecutors are arguing Edwards broke more than just campaign finance laws. The indictment alleges he worked to cover up his affair and Hunter's pregnancy--and that actively conspired to hide the cover up.

More than a dozen former Edwards campaign aides testified before the federal grand jury. According to the indictment, one of the former aides told the grand jury that Edwards admitted to him or her in the summer of 2009 that he was aware that one of his longtime supporters--trial lawyer Fred Baron, who died in 2008--had funneled cash to Hunter and Andrew Young, a former Edwards aide who initially pretended to be the father of Hunter's baby, as part of the effort to hide Edwards' affair.

The subject came up as Edwards was in the process of drafting a statement admitting he was the father of Hunter's baby, according to the aide's testimony.

"Edwards further told the employee that this was a huge issue and that for 'legal and practical reasons' it should not be mentioned in the statement they were preparing," the indictment reads.

That statement was ultimately never issued--and Edwards didn't admit he was the father of Hunter's child until months later, in January 2010. The testimony is notable because Edwards has publicly denied knowing about his benefactors' attempts to hide Hunter's pregnancy--though it's unclear if he has maintained that position in court. If Edwards was concerned about "legal" issues at the time, it potentially undermines his attorney's arguments that the cash spent to hide Hunter was simply a gift.

Not only does Edwards face the loss of his law license if convicted, but the former candidate could also face major fines and potential jail time. He's denied any wrongdoing. According to the Justice Department, Edwards is scheduled to appear at a federal courthouse in Winston-Salem, N.C., at 2:30 pm EST today to be arraigned on the charges.

(Photo of Edwards: Jim R. Bounds/AP)

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