John Edwards: Closing Arguments
By now it's hardly a surprise, just a major disappointment, that the Judge in John Edwards' trial continues to restrict his defense and rule against his legal arguments, while giving the Government everything it wants.
The latest: The Judge is going with the Government's position on the meaning of "the" in the statute that prevents candidates from accepting donations over $2,300.00 if they are "for the purpose of influencing the election."
Although Eagles said she tried to balance the wishes of prosecutors and the defense in drafting her instructions, she delivered a clear victory for the government by saying she would tell the jury that money doesn't have to be for "the sole purpose" of influencing an election to be considered a campaign contribution.
The Government last week filed a brief arguing that "the purpose" can be one of several purposes. The defense says Congress' use of the word "the" in phrase "for the purpose of " means that influencing the election must be the sole purpose of the donated funds in order for the monies to be considered a campaign contribution.
The judge also scaled back Team Edwards' requested jury instruction on good faith:
Lowell unsuccessfully urged Eagles to provide more instruction that Edwards had a "good faith" belief that the money from Mellon and Baron were legal gifts and not excessive campaign donations. Citing Young's testimony that Edwards had consulted campaign finance experts who assured him the payments weren't illegal, Lowell said that amounted to testimony from Edwards.
"(Those were) Mr. Edwards' words on his belief of legality," Lowell said. "That's why he didn't need to testify, because this was spoken by him."
After denying Edwards' motion to admit the tape of the FEC hearing (D.E. #283, described here), Abbe Lowell made an oral motion to admit the transcript of the hearing. The government provided it as an attachment to its brief arguing against the admission of the tape. The Judge denied that too.
[Judge] Eagles, who previously prevented a former FEC chairman from telling jurors that he thought the payments weren't campaign contributions, ruled that the transcript wouldn't be allowed as evidence.
"I don't think the opinions of others, whether they are FEC commissioners or not, is particularly helpful for this jury," she said.
Mr. Edwards was just made aware of and seeks to admit a January 16, 2009 letter from the U.S. Department of Justice ("DOJ") to the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington ("CREW"), explaining that DOJ does not prosecute election law cases when the FEC has concluded that criminal liability does not exist.
It quotes the letter:
...The FECA specifically gives the Commission the authority to interpret the features of the FECA. The role of the Department of Justice in matters arising under FECA is confined to prosecuting violations of the Act's provisions that are committed "knowingly and willfully." For such a criminal violation to occur, the application of the law to the facts of a matter must at the very least be clear, and there must be no doubt that the Commission considers that the underlying conduct presents a FECA offense.
The motion argues:
Mr. Edwards is entitled to introduce the FEC statements to demonstrate the reasonableness of his view and the view of his staff that the payments by Mr. Baron and Ms. Mellon are not campaign contributions and that any omission was not material. For the same reason, the DOJ Letter adds to the evidentiary value of the FEC's statements by establishing that this is not the opinion of just anybody, but of the expert agency on FECA matters.
In addition, due process requires the introduction of this evidence to alleviate any false impression DOJ has sought to create in this trial that its view of the evidence is the view of the United States government as a whole.
That was denied too: From the court's Docket on PACER:
05/16/2012 ORAL ORDER denying 283 Motion as to JOHNNY REID EDWARDS (1); denying 284 Motion as to JOHNNY REID EDWARDS (1) for reasons stated from bench by JUDGE CATHERINE C. EAGLES on 5/16/2012.
From the transcript of last Friday's hearing on the Motion for Judgment of Acquittal, it appears that the Government has convinced the judge to treat the Mellon/Baron contributions as continuing offenses to get around its venue problem and support for its aiding and abetting theory on certain counts.
So what has the Judge left for John Edwards to argue in closing? That Andrew Young is a liar?
That was the purpose of the stipulation today to admit evidence of Rielle Hunter's menstrual cyle and conception date medical records. But I don't think it was for the reason the Washington Post suggests: "It’s a way to attempt to cast doubt on the prosecution’s claims about Edwards’s motivations to keep the pregnancy secret."
I think it goes far beyond that. It shows Andrew Young lied when he told the jury he asked Bunny Mellon for money after Hunter told him she was pregnant.
Hunter conceived sometime during between May 25 and 28, 2007. The earliest she could have known she was pregnant (she didn't take a home pregnancy test) was when she missed her next period, which would be June 8. Her doctor didn't confirm she was pregnant until July 3, 2007.
Yet, the first big check Andrew received from Bunny Mellon through her decorator Bryan Huffman, after he contacted her for money, was on June 6, before Rielle could have known about the pregnancy-- and before she could have discussed it with him.
This goes to strengthen Edwards claim that Andrew Young solicited funds from Mellon to benefit himself rather than to cover up Hunter's pregnancy.
Here are the checks Andrew Young wrote to his builder.
Edwards did the right thing in my view staying off the stand. Given his lies to ABC News that came in, which they probably graphically display during closing as they hone in on how many lies he told, he'd probably get convicted and be looking at a sentencing enhancement for lying at trial (obstruction of justice enhancement.)
The only thing left to read tea-leaves from is the final jury instructions. Those should be published at the end of the day tomorrow, after closing arguments are done. The jury is expected to begin deliberating on Friday.
I do want to say that I think Abbe Lowell and his team have done a great job. Really well-written pleadings with well-crafted, supported arguments. I've read every single one -- and some pre-trial transcripts.
I will also say that the next big federal trial I cover as a writer, it's going to be from the courtroom. There's none of the in -depth coverage in Edwards like Marcy, Jane, the other FDL'rs and me did for Scooter Libby in 2006. We took turns typing the proceedings live while we listened (we all type really fast). We also got synoposes pieces up a few times of day with our impressions of the players, witnesses, and covered arguments over instructions and legal issues. At night we did video wrapups and and a late night summary, covering the day in a nutshell. And none of us were paid a dime other than travel expenses which our readers contributed. I guess Big Media figures the rest of the country isn't interested in all the details, just the more salacious ones. And by now, most of us are so sick of pundits, we just want the facts. We can figure out on our own what it all means. Still, there's no substitute for being in the courtroom or overflow room, getting daily transcripts, and watching the expressions on the everyone's faces, including the jury and judge, as the trial takes place.
I'll be in court all morning, so I won't have any updates until lunchtime MT or after. BTD says he's swamped until next Tuesday, so you may see more open threads for a few days.
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