April 23, 2012 -- Today, during the opening statements of his trial in Greensboro, N.C., two-time presidential candidate John Edwards was accused of using illegal campaign contributions during the 2008 presidential race to cover up his pregnant mistress, Rielle Hunter, a videographer for the campaign.
"If his affair went public it would destroy his candidacy, and he knew it," said prosecutor David Harbach. "His mistress was a loose cannon, and he knew it. He made a choice to accept hundreds of thousands of dollars. He made a choice to break the law. That is why we are here."
Edwards' defense team said that while its client's actions may have been deplorable, they were not illegal.
"John Edwards is not afraid of the truth. He welcomes it," said Edwards' attorney Allison Van Laningham. "The truth may be a sin, but it is not a crime. John Edwards has not asked us to paint a picture of him as virtuous. ... He admits he cheated. He admits he lied."
A story today in the New York Post claimed that Edwards and Hunter's relationship had cooled in the runup to the trial, which RoseMarie Terenzior, Hunter's friend and publicist, denied.
"Contrary to recent media reports, Rielle Hunter and John Edward's relationship has not changed since the trial opened," Terenzior said in a statement.
At the time the affair began, Edwards' wife, Elizabeth, was battling cancer. She died in December 2010, less than a year after Edwards admitted he was the father of Hunter's daughter.
Laningham contends that Edwards tried to hide his affair to avoid embarrassment, not to preserve his presidential aspirations.
"Humiliation, this is what motivated John Edwards, to not be humiliated by his affair and for his wife not to be humiliated by it either," said Laningham. "He didn't do it because he wanted to be president. ... John knew he wasn't going to be president, knew he wasn't going to be the nominee."
The prosecution's key witness in the case is Andrew Young, a once-close friend and political aide to Edwards who allegedly conspired with the former senator in an elaborate and expensive scheme to hide Hunter. Young, who has an immunity deal with prosecutors, falsely claimed paternity of Hunter's child during the campaign and issued a public statement to throw the political press corps off the scent of the scandal. Young has said the ruse was Edwards' idea.
The prosecution aims to prove that Edwards illegally conspired with Young, a married man with three children of his own, and others to use hundreds of thousands of dollars in illegal campaign contributions to hide Hunter. Edwards' defense maintains that the money came in the form of private gifts that were not related to the campaign.
"Follow the path of the money. Where did it come from? Where did it go?" said Laningham. "The evidence will show it went into the pockets of Andrew and Cheri Young. And into the wood, stones and walls of their $1.5 million home in Chapel Hill."
Edwards faces six charges that include one count of conspiracy, four counts of accepting illegal campaign contributions and one count of making false statements. If convicted on all counts, Edwards could face up to 30 years in prison and $1.5 million in fines.