Former trial lawyer John Edwards is betting he can win over a jury if the Justice Department decides to prosecute him over money his supporters gave to take care of his mistress Rielle Hunter and their daughter during the 2008 presidential campaign. Politico's Ben Smith reports that a federal indictment on campaign finance charges is imminent, and Edwards' lawyers are hashing out whether to take a plea deal--which would cost him his law license and possibly prison time--or spend a ton of money on a criminal trial that he could possibly lose. McClatchy's J. Andrew Curliss and Joseph Neff report that prosecutors could go before a grand jury to seek an indictment early next week.
Edwards' close circle of attorneys and friends is divided over whether to try their luck in court, but Smith reports that Edwards himself is leaning toward going before a jury, where he was so successful earlier in his career that he was "an almost legendary star of the North Carolina trial bar." And he doesn't want to give up his law license since he wants to keep a way to make money in the future and maybe even rehabilitate his image.
But it's not just nostalgia for his glory days that has Edwards considering going to trial. Prosecutors are likely to argue that the money given by heiress Rachel "Bunny" Mellon and the late Fred Baron paid for what were in essence campaign expenses--paying to hide Hunter and her baby kept Edwards' campaign going. That's an unusual reading of what the law considers campaign expenditures, which are typically something more like buying TV ads. In fact, former vice chairman of the Federal Elections Commission, Karl Sandstrom, declined prosecutors's request that he testify, telling Smith the government's argument "seems somewhat of a stretch." That's why one Edwards lawyer, former White House counsel Greg Craig, thinks a trial is the way to go. Further, the government's star witness is Andrew Young, Edwards' former aide who agreed to pretend he was the father of Hunter's baby and published a memoir about the whole ordeal, and if he lied to help Edwards, they'll argue, he may lie to convict him.