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Here's the sleaze, but where's the crime?

Posted By Bill Press On 04/26/2012 @ 7:46 pm In Commentary,Opinion | No Comments

After hearing the latest daily take from the John Edwards trial, now under way in Greensboro, N.C., you almost want to take a shower. It’s better (or worse) than any daytime soap. It makes tabloids look tame.

In essence, what sounds like a weighty case – “The United States of America v. Johnny Reid Edwards” – boils down to a prizefight between two liars. In one corner, former Sen. John Edwards, once a rising star in the Democratic Party. As a candidate for president in 2007 and 2008, he cheated on his wife and then lied to her and the entire nation about it. He lied about fathering a child with Rielle Hunter. And, to keep both his mistress and the child a secret, he arranged for two wealthy supporters, Fred Baron and Rachel “Bunny” Mellon, to shower her with cash. That is fact.

In the other corner the government’s star witness, former Edwards aide Andrew Young, who now piously condemns everything he once helped Edwards do. Young and his wife received the checks from Baron and Mellon, and then laundered the money directly to Hunter. They traveled with her from state to state, keeping her out of sight. They even shared a home with her in Santa Barbara, acting as her live-in servants. And, in the ultimate act of acolyte loyalty, Young even claimed that he, not Edwards, was the father of Hunter’s baby. And that is fact.

So the obvious first question is: Why should the jury believe anything said by either one of these pathological liars? They both abandoned the truth to serve their own self-interest: Edwards, in a desperate attempt to save his political career; Young, in a cynical attempt to rake in big bucks from a best-selling book and speaking career.

But the bigger second question is: Why is the Department of Justice prosecuting this case in the first place? On so many levels, the Edwards trial seems an abuse of prosecutorial power. John Edwards’ behavior was certainly sleazy. You might even say “sinful.” But it’s not against the law to have an affair and lie about it. And there’s no law against having friends write your mistress a check, or even fathering a baby outside of wedlock. So where is the federal crime?

According to the Department of Justice, Edwards is guilty of six felony counts, including conspiracy, misuse of campaign funds and giving false statements. But that begs the question: Were these really campaign funds? As noted above, the checks from Mellon and Baron – totaling roughly a combined $925,000 – were not campaign contributions. They were not written to the Edwards campaign, nor to Edwards himself. As Young has testified, Mellon’s checks were made out to her interior decorator, who co-signed them with Young’s wife, who then gave the money to Rielle Hunter.

Prosecutors charge that funds given to Hunter were the functional equivalent of campaign contributions. But, in the world of campaign finance law, this is a first. Never before has any candidate been charged with breaking the law for checks written – not to his campaign – but by one third party to another third party. Not only that, it seems absurdly out-of-date for the DOJ to now be accusing Edwards of accepting indirect contributions in excess of the then-legal limit of $2,300 per donor – when today, thanks to Citizens United, fat cats like Sheldon Adelson, Harold Simmons, Foster Friess and the Koch Brothers are donating tens of millions of dollars to super PACs supporting individual federal candidates – and nobody cares.

The case against John Edwards also smells of political opportunism. It was started by George Holding, a hotdog U.S. attorney appointed by President George W. Bush, one of Karl Rove’s legion of U.S. attorneys around the country who used their office to go after Democratic officeholders. Yet, despite its suspicious beginning and flimsy body of evidence, Attorney General Eric Holder decided to pursue the Edwards prosecution and take the case all the way to federal court.

Talk about misplaced priorities. Holder refused to go after George Bush and Dick Cheney for war crimes. He’s done nothing about voter-suppression laws in more than 30 states. He filed no charges against Wall Street executives for wrecking our economy. Instead, he’s prosecuting John Edwards for pampering his mistress. What a colossal waste of taxpayer dollars.


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