On Friday, former presidential contender John Edwards was indicted on six felony charges, including the charge that he solicited and accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign donations, in violation of campaign finance law, to keep his mistress and their baby hidden from the public while he pursued the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination. (Cue The Daily Show: “John Edwards spent an awful lot of money hiding a baby. Hasn’t he ever heard of a duffle bag?”)
Edwards pleaded not guilty, and to reporters outside the Winston-Salem courthouse on Friday he said, lawyer-like: “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 that I was breaking the law.” (The Justice Department must prove that Edwards knowingly and willfully violated campaign finance law.)
On the off chance that your time quota this week for Consumption of News About Contemptible Men in Politics has been exhausted elsewhere, I offer this roundup of recent Edwards news.
“Cad,” concluded both Reuters and the Washington Post’s editorial board (the latter while arguing that the government’s was a “questionable legal case”). “Creep,” said a Star-Ledger editorial headlined, in print, “A Lout Driven by Lust” (the online headline was, “It could’ve been worse: Edwards could’ve been elected”). “Lout” it was, too, for Bloomberg’s Margaret Carlson. “John Edwards continues to embarrass state,” proclaimed the Winston-Salem (NC) Journal in an editorial lamenting that “now, unfortunately, [Edwards] and his carefully coiffed hair will be in our faces for years to come.”
For an in-a-nutshell lede, there’s this from Reason’s hit & run blog:
It is not a crime to have an affair while your wife is dying of cancer, father a child with your mistress, and persistently deny both the affair and the child until forced to come clean when the guy who pretended to be the father finally admits the ruse. It is not even a crime to have such an affair while you are running for president. What is a crime, say federal prosecutors, is using your rich friends’ money to conceal the affair by paying for your mistress’s medical treatment, travel, and housing.
But, is it? A crime? Can the Justice Department prove that Edwards knowingly and willfully violated our “murky” (this word and its variants come up often in the coverage) campaign finance law?
ProPublica walks readers through the murk with a handy “John Edwards Cheat Sheet,” exploring “What Are the Facts and Do They Make Him a Criminal?” Over at Slate, election law expert Richard L. Hasen has an informative column discussing “why the case against John Edwards may be hard to prove.” Writes Hasen:
Let’s begin with an unassailable fact: John Edwards behaved very badly What’s less clear, however, is whether Edwards should go to jail for his behavior. Specifically, does it amount to a violation of federal campaign-finance laws?
Politico reports that the prosecution has been looking around for former FEC commissioners to testify about how to interpret the campaign-finance law, and at least one of these commissioners has turned the government down, viewing the case as too murky.
If the law is so murky that the government needs an expert to testify as to what it actually means, there’s a decent argument that it would be unconstitutional to use that law as the basis for a criminal prosecution. It is just too vague…
The court of public opinion has long since issued its verdict on Edwards. In the court of law, however, it could be hard to prove the case against him.