John Edwards Trial: ‘Truth May Be a Sin … Not a Crime’
(GREENSBORO, N.C.) -- On Monday, during the opening statements of his trial in Greensboro, N.C., two-time presidential candidate John Edwards was accused of illegally using campaign funds during the 2008 presidential race to cover up his pregnant mistress, Rielle Hunter, a videographer for the campaign.
"If his affair went public it would destroy his candidacy, and he knew it," said prosecutor David Harbach. "His mistress was a loose cannon, and he knew it. He made a choice to accept hundreds of thousands of dollars. He made a choice to break the law. That is why we are here."
Edwards' defense team said that while its client's actions may have been deplorable, they were not illegal.
"John Edwards is not afraid of the truth. He welcomes it," said Edwards' attorney Allison Van Laningham. "The truth may be a sin, but it is not a crime. John Edwards has not asked us to paint a picture of him as virtuous....He admits he cheated. He admits he lied."
At the time of the affair, Edwards' wife, Elizabeth, was battling cancer. She died in December 2010, less than a year after Edwards admitted he was the father of Hunter's daughter.
Laningham contends that Edwards tried to hide his affair to avoid embarrassment, not to preserve his presidential aspirations.
The prosecution's key witness in the case is Andrew Young, a once-close friend and political aide to Edwards who allegedly conspired with the former senator in an elaborate and expensive scheme to hide Hunter. Young, who has an immunity deal with prosecutors, falsely claimed paternity of Hunter's child during the campaign and issued a public statement to throw the political press corps off the scent of the scandal. Young has said the ruse was Edwards' idea.
The prosecution aims to prove that Edwards illegally conspired with Young, a married man with three children of his own, and others to use hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign cash to hide Hunter. Edwards' defense maintains that the money came in the form of private gifts that were not related to the campaign.
"Follow the path of the money. Where did it come from? Where did it go?" said Laningham. "The evidence will show it went into the pockets of Andrew and Cheri Young. And into the wood, stones and walls of their $1.5 million home in Chapel Hill."
Edwards faces six charges that include one count of conspiracy, four counts of accepting illegal campaign contributions and one count of making false statements. If convicted on all counts, Edwards could face up to 30 years in prison and $1.5 million in fines.
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