John Edwards trial: Defense shifts focus away from salacious details of affair to campaign finance law

ByDylan Stableford
May 14, 2012, 5:07 PM

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After two weeks of testimony from witnesses to his affair, lawyers for John Edwards opened their defense case in Greensboro, N.C., on Monday, by shifting attention away the salacious details to something entirely less sexy—campaign finance law—arguing that the nearly $1 million the former presidential candidate is accused of using to hide his then-pregnant mistress was not a campaign contribution.

Lora Haggard, Edwards' chief financial officer during his 2008 presidential run, testified that donations from Rachel "Bunny" Mellon and late campaign finance chairman Fred Baron were never reported to the Federal Election Commission because FEC auditors determined they were unrelated to the campaign.

"I did not believe them to be contributions to the campaign," Haggard said. "They were not contributions to the campaign to urge the public to vote for Mr. Edwards." The FEC ruling came after Edwards was indicted, Haggard said.

FEC Chairman Scott Thomas was scheduled to be the first witness for the defense, but prosecutors argued that jurors should not hear testimony about the FEC's ruling. The judge in the case, Catherine C. Eagles, scheduled a separate hearing to determine whether the testimony will be allowed.

Last week, the prosecution rested its conspiracy case against Edwards without calling Rielle Hunter, his former mistress and mother of his now-4-year-old child. It's unclear whether Hunter, whose name appeared on witness lists submitted before the trial by both the defense and the prosecution, will be called by the defense. It's also unclear whether Edwards himself will take the stand.

Edwards faces six criminal counts—including conspiracy, four counts of receiving illegal campaign contributions and one count of making false statements—for allegedly soliciting and secretly spending over $925,000 to cover up his affair with Hunter. If convicted on all six counts, Edwards faces up to 30 years in prison and $1.5 million in fines.

In court filings over the weekend, the prosecution and defense argued about how the jury should be instructed to approach the campaign finance law.

"Because people rarely act with a single purpose in mind, it is not necessary that you find that a gift, purchase, or payment was made solely for the purpose of influencing a federal election," the prosecution's proposed instruction to the jury, posted by Politico, read. "It is sufficient under the law if you find that the gift, purchase, or payment was made for, among other purposes, the purpose of influencing any election for federal office."

"If spending money to conceal an affair is campaign related because it is spent for 'the purpose of influencing an election,' then presumably a candidate could spend campaign money (including federal taxpayer matching funds) to pay, for example, for his mistress to have an abortion to conceal the affair," the defense team wrote in a response.

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