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John Edwards Defense Dealt a Blow By Judge’s Ruling

Sketch by Christine Cornell(GREENSBORO, N.C.) -- John Edwards rested his case Wednesday, but his defense was dealt a blow when the federal judge said she will set a lower bar than Edwards' legal team had sought for convicting the former presidential candidate of violating the federal campaign finance law.

The judge's decision about how she will instruct the jury came just hours after Edwards' lawyers ended their case, not with the bang of the candidate and his mistress testifying, but with a series of bank statements, phone records and Federal Election Commission memos and a final shot at the credibility of Edwards' chief accuser.

Edwards is on trial for allegedly using nearly $1 million in donations from wealthy backers Fred Baron and Rachel "Bunny" Mellon to keep his affair with mistress Rielle Hunter secret in order to protect his presidential ambitions and later his hopes of winning a spot as vice president or attorney general. If convicted, Edwards could be sentenced to 30 years in prison.

Edwards' lawyers hoped the case would rest in part on Judge Catherine Eagles' interpretation of the word "the." The statute governing illegal receipt of campaign contributions "means any gift, subscription, loan, advance, or deposit of money... for the purpose of influencing any election for federal office." The words "the purpose" suggests that in order for a conviction, the sole reason for the money would have to be to finance a presidential campaign.

Edwards' legal team argued that his main reason for hiding his mistress was to keep the secret from his wife, Elizabeth, who was dying of breast cancer. The judge, however, decided the government will not have to prove that the sole and only purpose of the hush money was to influence the election. It could be to keep it from his wife and to influence his political chances.

Closing arguments are set to begin Thursday morning and Edwards' lawyers will likely use them to take aim at the credibility of Edwards' primary accuser, Andrew Young.

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