John Edwards' hopes for a plea deal have collapsed over prosecutors' insistence that he serve time in jail; Edwards apparently said that as the primary caregiver to two of his younger children (ages 10 and 12), that was a deal breaker. It's looking like he'll stand trial. But does the Justice Department have a case?
Edwards told reporters last week, "I will regret for the rest of my life the pain and the harm that I've caused to others. But I did not break the law. And I never, ever thought I was breaking the law." The second part of his claim matters; to convict Edwards under these particular campaign finance laws, prosecutors have to show intent.
That's key to the skepticism the Washington Post evinced in an editorial. A related question is whether the checks written by Bunny Mellon and Fred Baron count as contributions to the campaign; they weren't filed as such. The Justice Department says that they do, because it would have harmed Edwards' campaign if the world knew what a dick he is. "A centerpiece of Edwards' candidacy was his public image as a devoted family man," according to the indictment. "The communication strategy developed by Edwards' campaign stressed the importance of publicizing, among other things, 'that [his] family comes first.'"
The Post argues, "A criminal case based on this novel application of the law goes too far. At least as presented in the indictment, there is scant evidence that Mr. Edwards understood the payments to be campaign contributions." Edwards' lawyers clearly agree.
Not classifying the payments as contributions is another count in the indictment, under "false statements." Writing in The Nation, Ari Melber puts it plainly: "So the prosecution has to get from the evidence of spending cash to hide an affair (which happened and is generally legal), to proving that campaign donations were made to hide an affair (which did not happen, at least in the literal or traditional sense of the term)." Legal experts he consulted could find no precedent for this formulation. Politico refers to it as the Edwards Catch-22: If Edwards had spent the money to keep Rielle Hunter quiet and classified it as a campaign expense, that would have been a violation of campaign finance law; he didn't, and he's still being charged with violations.
It's hard to feel bad for Johnny Reid Edwards (his legal name), whose selfishness and callousness is undisputed whatever the legal merits; his children are another matter. Hunter, in the meantime, made the interesting decision to pose for photos in The New York Post — looks like this time, she kept her pants on — and brought her young daughter along, with the slight disguise of big sunglasses. "It's difficult to be on this side of the camera. I don't like the spotlight," Hunter told the paper.