Former Presidential Candidate John Edwards Gets Mistrial on Five Counts: Will DOJ Try Again?
May 31st, 2012
GREENSBORO, N.C. — When former Senator John Edwards, a man who reached for the presidency while scrambling to hide a pregnant mistress, heard on Thursday that a federal jury would not convict him on the six corruption charges he faced, he fell back in his chair and closed his eyes.
For just a moment, the man whose most intimate sexual details, lies and bare political ambition had been aired for nearly six weeks in a federal trial, looked as if he might cry.
Yes, he said as he left the courtroom, he had sinned.
“I did an awful, awful lot that was wrong,” he said. “I am responsible. I don’t have to go any further than the mirror. It’s me and me alone.”
But he was not guilty of using campaign funds to hide those sins, he said.
Certainly, Mr. Edwards has lost in the court of public opinion. But on Thursday he was vindicated, for the moment, by a jury of mostly working class North Carolinians who could not reach a verdict on the five charges of campaign finance fraud and conspiracy he faced.
They acquitted him on one, which was based on a $200,000 check that the heiress Rachel Mellon had written him in January 2008, the month he dropped out of the race for the Democratic nomination for president. The result was seen as a setback for the Justice Department’s public integrity section, the watchdog agency that has struggled to rebuild itself.
The Justice Department offered no indication on whether it would retry Mr. Edwards.
Unless it decides to do so, the verdict and mistrial end one of the most scandalous chapters in the history of presidential campaigning, weaving in a hidden child, an ambitious would-be first lady dying of cancer, secret money from ultrarich supporters and legal scrutiny of the laws that regulate how money given to candidates for office can be used.
It is unlikely that the verdict will help politicians better interpret the labyrinth of campaign finance law or lead to more gifts to candidates, said Richard L. Hasen, an expert in election law at the University of California, Irvine. “This is not going to open up a free-for-all where you’re going to have the ‘super-PAC’ billionaires giving large ‘gifts’ to their candidate friends.” He noted that the Federal Election Commission has made it clear that it looks critically upon the practice unless there has been a pattern of gift-giving unrelated to campaigns, as with Ms. Mellon to Mr. Edwards.
If he were advising candidates, he said, “I would encourage them to be extremely cautious so as not to get caught up in something which could cause an overzealous prosecutor to try to make a name for himself or herself.”
The government contended that Mr. Edwards used about $1 million to finance a complex scheme to keep Rielle Hunter, a former campaign videographer with whom he began an extramarital affair in 2006, from his wife and the public while he pursued the presidency.
The charges were based on how he handled money from Fred Baron, a wealthy Texas lawyer who was Mr. Edward’s finance chairman, and Mrs. Mellon, now 101, an heiress to pharmaceutical and banking fortunes with connections to the Kennedy family.
The jurors, who had deliberated for nine days, were escorted to their cars by federal marshals without comment.
Judge Catherine C. Eagles cautioned them against speaking with the news media or even reading or watching much of the coverage for the next few days, saying they would need some time to reconnect with their families.
As she had been through the length of the trial, Judge Eagles was solicitous as she said goodbye. “You can hold your head up,” she said.
Later, in a brief interview, one juror said “it was real divided” when asked about the deliberations. She and another juror were at the Charlotte, N.C., airport, on their way to New York for a morning TV appearance.