John Edwards Trial Begins
The jury is expected to hear opening arguments today in the federal trial of John Edwards taking place in North Carolina. Here's a primer on what to watch for. An overview is here. The key questions are here.
While in many ways it will be the trial of Andrew Young vs. John Edwards, and whether Team Edwards can effectively impeach Mr. Young’s credibility, it's also going to be a very technical trial about the interpretation of campaign finance laws.
The Indictment is here. There are six charges. [More...]
- Count 1: Conspiring with Andrew Young, Fred Baron, Rachel Mellon and others, to accept excessive campaign contributions from both Mr. Baron and Ms. Mellon and conspiring to file false and misleading campaign finance reports with the Federal Election Commission.
- Count 2: Receiving more than $25,000 in campaign contributions from Rachel Mellon in 2007, which exceeded the $2,300. limit set by the Election Act.
- Count 3: Receiving more than $25,000 in campaign contributions from Rachel Mellon in 2008, which exceeded the $2,300. limit set by the Election Act.
- Count 4: Receiving more than $25,000 in campaign contributions from Fred Baron in 2007, which exceeded the $2,300. limit set by the Election Act.
- Count 5: Receiving more than $25,000 in campaign contributions from Fred Baron in 2008, which exceeded the $2,300. limit set by the Election Act.
- Count 6: Making a False Statement : Concealing Mellon and Baron’s alleged contributions from his campaign committee, and in doing so, causing the treasurer of the campaign committee to file inaccurate and incomplete reports with the Federal Election
The Government's theory, according to its Trial Brief, Available on PACER:
A federal candidate may only accept and receive a limited amount of money from any one individual during an election cycle, and he must truthfully report the money he accepts and receives. At trial, the Government will prove that John Edwards knowingly and willfully violated these laws and that he specifically did so because public revelation of his extramarital affair and the resultant pregnancy would destroy his presidential campaign.
At trial, the Government will prove that Mellon’s and Baron’s payments constitute contributions in excess of the legal limit and that Edwards’ knowing and willful acceptance and receipt of them was a crime. The evidence will show that Mellon and Baron each provided funds to Edwards for the purpose of influencing the 2008 election – i.e., helping Edwards be elected President of the United States – and that Edwards knew it.
Edwards Defenses, as presented in his pleadings and Trial Brief:
Overall, Mr. Edwards will contend at trial that the monies paid by Fred Baron and Rachel Mellon to Andrew Young were not contributions within the meaning of the Federal Election Campaign Act ("FECA").
Specifically, Mr. Edwards will argue the monies were not direct contributions to the John Edwards for President Campaign, the monies were not coordinated expenditures made for a campaign-related purpose, and the monies do not fall within the personal use expense regulation. The evidence will demonstrate the expenses involved were not to satisfy debts that Mr. Edwards was legally obligated to pay irrespective of the campaign; that Mr. Baron and Ms. Mellon would have given the money regardless of the campaign; and that Mr. Baron and Ms. Mellon made the payments knowing that the monies would not be used for campaign purposes.
The evidence will reveal that the government's case requires the jury to accept a novel interpretation of the FECA, one that has never been the basis of criminal or even civil liability in the statute's history. The government itself has admitted as much in open court: "[the case] deals with the application of the federal campaign finance laws and how they are to be applied going forward.
Furthermore, Mr. Edwards contends that no matter what set of facts the government seeks to prove, he could not have viewed his actions as unlawful under FECA and thus he did not have the required specific intent to knowingly violate the law.
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