Former Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.), a two-time presidential candidate who was the 2004 Democratic vice presidential nominee, was indicted by a federal grand jury Friday over money spent to keep his mistress in hiding during his 2008 presidential campaign.
Edwards was charged with one count of conspiracy, four counts of illegal campaign contributions and one count of false statements. The indictment, handed down in the Middle District Court of North Carolina on Friday, was the culmination of a two-year federal investigation into alleged campaign finance violations.
According to the 19-page indictment, from 2007 to 2009 Edwards knowingly received and concealed contributions of more than $925,000 from Person C and Person D. Those people are two wealthy donors clearly identifiable as Rachel “Bunny” Mellon, the 100-year-old widow of billionaire philanthropist Paul Mellon, and Fred Baron. Baron, like Edwards a trial lawyer, was a prominent Democratic fundraiser at the time. He served as the finance chairman for the Edwards campaign. He died in October 2008.
Edwards’ campaign committee did not report these donations, which were well in excess of the $2,300 legal limit of individual contributions for the primary election. The donors were described in the indictment as "secretly obtaining" the funds.
Federal officials believe those donations should have been reported publicly as campaign contributions because they aided in Edwards’ bid for the Democratic nomination. Edwards’ attorneys argue that they were private gifts intended to keep the affair a secret from his wife, Elizabeth, who died of cancer in December.
“Edwards knew that public revelation of the affair and pregnancy would destroy his candidacy by, among other things, undermining Edwards’ presentation of himself as a family man and by forcing his campaign to dive personnel and resources away from other campaign activities to respond to criticism and media scrutiny regarding the affair and pregnancy,” the indictment reads.
Andrew Young, a former aide to Edwards, has said two wealthy Edwards donors gave him hundreds of thousands of dollars to help keep Edwards’ affair with Rielle Hunter, a campaign videographer, under wraps. Young initially claimed to be the father of Hunter’s child until Edwards admitted paternity in early 2010.
The money was given to Young (identified in the indictment as Person A) for medical, travel and accommodation expenses as he traveled the country keeping Hunter in seclusion, according to the indictment.
The indictment highlights several incriminating moments including one in May 2007 when Young and Edwards allegedly discussed potential donors who would be willing to support the mistress and love child.
“From now on, all haircuts, etc. that are necessary and important for his campaign — please send the bills to me,” Mellon wrote in a note to Young in the aftermath of the scandal over Edwards’ pricey haircuts, according to the indictment. “It is a way to help our friend without government restrictions.”
Mellon, who had already contributed the maximum legal amount, agreed to provide additional money, the indictment states. Mellon began writing checks made out to a friend, often falsely listing furniture items like “chairs” and “antique Charleston table” on the memo line, according to the indictment.
Edwards’ Washington-based attorney, Gregory Craig, issued a statement last week strongly denying any illegal activity by Edwards and calling the government’s theory “wrong on the facts and wrong on the law.”
“John Edwards has done wrong in his life — and he knows it better than anyone — but he did not break the law,” Craig wrote. “The Justice Department has wasted millions of dollars and thousands of hours on a matter more appropriately a topic for the Federal Election Commission to consider, not a criminal court.”
A trial would showcase an intensely watched and potentially uncomfortable showdown between Craig, President Barack Obama’s former White House counsel and the Obama Justice Department.