Ethics Group Jumps to the Defense of ‘Loathsome’ John Edwards

By ABC News

Sep 21, 2011 5:00pm

ABC News’ James Hill reports:

Ask Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, what she thinks of John Edwards, and she doesn’t hold back.

“John Edwards is a despicable, loathsome human being,” she says.  ”I have nothing nice to say about him. It is hard to think of someone lower than John Edwards.”

But ask her what she thinks about the federal government’s criminal case against Edwards, and you might be in for a surprise.

“I think the Justice Department is incredibly misguided,” she argues. ”We don’t prosecute people for being loathsome, we prosecute them for violating the law.”

And so, former Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards now has an unlikely new ally.  This morning, CREW filed a request in federal court asking for permission to file a brief in support of Edwards’ motion to dismiss the case against him, arguing that the Department of Justice’s indictment “improperly and unconstitutionally” applies campaign law to seek a criminal conviction. It released the brief publicly, although it has yet to be accepted by the court.

After an FBI and IRS investigation spanning more than two years, Edwards was indicted in June by a federal grand jury in North Carolina. The government alleges in a six-count indictment that Edwards illegally solicited more than $900,000 from wealthy supporters Bunny Mellon and Fred Baron, allegedly to seclude and support Rielle Hunter so that Edwards could continue his pursuit of the Democratic nomination for president.  There are no allegations that any of the money used to support Hunter came from or went through the campaign fund.

Sloan says the government’s case is fatally flawed.  ”Basically, they are saying nobody had any right to give Rielle Hunter any money. But rich people can do with their money what they want, and if Fred Baron wants to support Rielle Hunter, he can.”

Edwards has pleaded not guilty and earlier this month his legal team, now led by high-powered white-collar attorney Abbe Lowell, filed several motions seeking dismissal of the case. The government’s response to those motions is expected to be filed next week.

Jumping to Edwards’ defense is certainly an unusual move for CREW, considering the organization’s stated mission is to “ensure government officials … act with honesty and integrity and merit the public trust.”   

Earlier this week, CREW made headlines in more typical fashion with its annual list of the “Most Corrupt Members of Congress.”

But Sloan says that in the Edwards case, it’s the Justice Department that is deserving of her organization’s scrutiny. ”It seemed to us the right thing to do,” she says. “I really think that higher people in the Justice Department should have put the kibosh on this case earlier. And they didn’t.”  

She notes that the indictment was issued by a Republican appointee who resigned and announced a run for Congress shortly after the charges were announced.

“I really question whether the Justice Department let this go because the Republican [U.S. attorney] really wanted to push this case, and because everybody hates John Edwards, the Obama Justice Department figured it was just easier to let this lousy case move forward rather than having Republicans screaming about how Obama helped John Edwards out,” she says.

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