(GREENSBORO, N.C.) — Moments after a federal judge rejected John Edwards’ efforts to dismiss the government’s criminal case against him, the former senator and one-time rising star of Democratic politics stood outside the U.S. District Courthouse in Greensboro, N.C., and pronounced that he is ready to fight.
“What’s important now is that I now get my day in court,” Edwards proclaimed that day last October. “After all these years — I finally get my day in court.”
Edwards, 58, an attorney who made his name and built his fortune arguing malpractice cases in North Carolina courtrooms, is now placing his future and his freedom in the hands of a jury of his peers.
More than three years after the federal government launched an investigation into the financing of the cover-up of Edwards’ affair with fledgling videographer Rielle Hunter, jury selection is finally set to begin Thursday morning in a case as controversial as it as salacious. The events that led to this day seem, in many ways, like ancient history. Edwards long ago surrendered any hopes of a political future, his once-promising career draped in the shame of an illicit affair, implausible denials and revelations of a homemade sex tape.
And it has been over six years since Edwards and Hunter met in a chance encounter outside a New York hotel. The first time they laid eyes on each other, she told him he was “hot,” and a sexual affair quickly ensued. Their daughter born out of the affair, Frances Quinn Hunter, turned 4-years-old earlier this year having spent the first two years of her life with a father who publicly denied she was his.
The trial itself has already been delayed several times, most recently because Edwards needed treatment for a serious heart condition.
The former North Carolina senator was charged last June in a six-count indictment alleging that he was complicit in an illegal and elaborate conspiracy to seclude and support Hunter during the 2008 Democratic primary campaign for president. If convicted on all charges, he faces a maximum penalty of 30 years in prison and more than a $1 million dollars in fines.
The government contends Edwards, desperate to keep his pregnant mistress out of the public eye as he pursued a bid for the White House, orchestrated a plan to solicit nearly a million dollars from two wealthy supporters — Virginia heiress Rachel “Bunny” Mellon, and the late Fred Baron, a Texas trial attorney who served as Edwards’ national campaign finance chairman.
In announcing the charges, Assistant United States Attorney General Lanny Breuer called Edwards’ actions an affront to the integrity of democratic elections.
“We will not permit candidates for high office to abuse their special ability to access the coffers of their political supporters to circumvent our election laws,” Breuer said in a statement.
In the days before the indictment was issued, Edwards, now a single father after the death of his wife Elizabeth in 2010, considered but ultimately rejected a plea offer from prosecutors — reportedly because the government insisted Edwards serve at least six months in jail.
Instead, Edwards decided to take his chances in the courtroom. He has pleaded not guilty to all the charges, and his legal team, led by high-profile attorney Abbe Lowell, has assailed the government’s theory of the case as a “crazy and radical” interpretation of election law. They have characterized the money from Mellon and Baron as gifts that were unrelated to the campaign.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio
Ray Sanchez, CNN Newswire
Chuck Johnston, CNN Newswire