The former U.S. senator from North Carolina was charged in a six-count indictment with conspiring to receive the contributions from political donors and using them to hide his mistress, Rielle Hunter, and her pregnancy from the public so his campaign would not be damaged. Edwards lost the nomination to Barack Obama, then a senator from Illinois, and the affair’s subsequent exposure destroyed Edwards’s once-promising political career.
The indictment, returned by a federal grand jury in North Carolina, says the illegal contributions paid for Hunter’s living and medical expenses, along with travel needed to shield her from reporters. Prosecutors said this violated federal election laws that limit individual contributions to a campaign and require reporting of donations.
“We will not permit candidates for high office to abuse their special ability to access the coffers of their political supporters to circumvent our election laws,’’ said Lanny A. Breuer, assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s Criminal Division. “Our campaign finance system is designed to preserve the integrity of democratic elections — for the presidency and all other elected offices — and we will vigorously pursue abuses of the kind alleged today.”
Lawyers for Edwards were expected to speak to reporters when the former candidate appears in U.S. District Court in Winston-Salem, N.C., on Friday afternoon. They have indicated they will vigorously fight the charges. Edwards lawyer Gregory B. Craig last week strongly denied any illegal activity by Edwards and accused prosecutors of exaggerating the strength of the allegations.
“John Edwards has done wrong in his life — and he knows it better than anyone — but he did not break the law,” Craig wrote last week. “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.”
In response to the indictment, Craig said Friday that Edwards “will tell the court he is innocent of all charges, and will plead not guilty.” He again denied that Edwards broke the law and said he “will mount a vigorous defense.”
The Edwards legal team on Friday also released statements from his 2008 campaign counsel and a former Federal Election Commission chairman disputing the charges.
“It is my view that . . . these payments would not be considered to be either campaign contributions or campaign expenditures within the meaning of the campaign finance laws,” wrote former FEC chairman Scott E. Thomas.
Echoing what attorneys for Edwards have said, he added: “I believe that the theory on which the government intends to base its prosecution is without precedent in federal election law.”