A federal judge overseeing the criminal trial of former Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards is hearing arguments this afternoon about potential conflicts of interest raised by the recent addition of Rielle Hunter’s former attorneys to Edwards’ legal team.
Alan Duncan and Allison Van Laningham, who represented Hunter in a civil suit over ownership of a videotape depicting Hunter and Edwards in a sexual encounter, filed notice last week that they would be joining Edwards’ criminal defense team, just six business days after the civil dispute was settled and the sex tape ordered destroyed.
Government prosecutors quickly requested an investigative inquiry by the judge, arguing in a motion to the court that the participation of Hunter’s former attorneys in the criminal trial “presents a classic conflicts problem,” and asserting there is a “real possibility that cross-examination of Ms. Hunter may not be as thorough as otherwise might be the case were an independent non-conflicted counsel conducting the examination.”
The defense team countered that Edwards, Hunter and her former attorneys had all considered the potential for conflicts and had determined that none exist. Hunter signed a letter to the court indicating she has no objection to Duncan and Van Laningham representing Edwards.
The government’s motion also reveals – for the first time – that Hunter entered into an immunity agreement with the government prior to her grand jury appearance in August of 2009 – and outlines a revealing preview of Hunter’s anticipated testimony at the trial.
“The [g]overnment expects…Ms. Hunter would testify that she was, of course, a participant in the ongoing affair, which spanned the duration of Edwards’ official campaign for President,” the motion states. “She acknowledges cash spent and benefits conferred (to include medical care, living expenses, furniture, clothing, vacations, luxury travel and accommodations, and cash payments) as the result of Edwards’ and others’ efforts to support and conceal her, the affair and the pregnancy from the media.”
Edwards was charged last June in a six-count felony indictment alleging his complicity in an illegal scheme to solicit more than $900,000 from two wealthy donors to support and conceal Hunter during her pregnancy - while Edwards was pursuing the 2008 Democratic nomination for president. Edwards has pleaded not guilty to all counts, and his defense team has argued that the government is pursuing the case employing a “crazy” and “radical” interpretation of election laws.
In late 2007, shortly after the National Enquirer snapped photos of a visibly pregnant Hunter, the candidate’s mistress was whisked away on private jets on a five-state odyssey – staying in luxury hotels and private resort homes – allegedly supported with secret cash payments funneled from the donors to Andrew Young, a former close aide to Edwards who once falsely claimed paternity of Hunter’s daughter.
“Throughout this period,” the government’s motion continues, “Hunter stayed in close contact with Edwards, often speaking with him many times per day. We expect Hunter to testify that she made Edwards aware of her living situation, welcomed his periodic visits, alerted him to her financial needs, and complained when she did not receive – in her estimation – adequate support from the funds.”
If Hunter is called to the stand, the government says in its motion that “she will provide testimony suggesting that Edwards was aware of the funds being provided, participated in planning the scheme… and that he was aware of and condoned the role that many of the participants played in the conspiracy charged in the Indictment.”
Edwards’ trial is scheduled to begin next month in U.S. District Court in Greensboro, N.C. It is expected to last six weeks.