At its core, it’s a case about money, but at each stage John Edwards’s character also seems to be on trial.
After 14 days of testimony in a Greensboro, N.C., courtroom, prosecutors on Thursday rested a case that both alleged criminal misuse of campaign funds and laid bare the implosion of a once-promising political figure.
Even before the defense called its first witness, legal analysts said the prosecution’s case was far from a slam-dunk.
“They’ve shown in as many ways as possible that he was a bad guy who did terrible things,” says former federal prosecutor Kieran Shanahan, who has followed the trial closely, “but I’m not sure they’ve shown beyond a reasonable doubt he committed a crime.”
Edwards’s liberty appears to hinge most on the money evidence – the 58-year-old faces up to 30 years in prison if convicted – while his already frayed legacy has been shredded by shocking revelations in court.
1. Lied on Nightline?
The prosecution wrapped up the case by using Edwards’s own words, to ABC’s Bob Woodruff in August 2008, against him. “I have never asked anybody to pay a dime of money. Never been told that any money has been paid. Nothing has been done at my request,” Edwards said in the interview. “I knew nothing about this. No one consulted me about it. I had no involvement at all.” Those statements contradict testimony from Edwards’s speechwriter, who said he told her “he had known all along that Fred Baron had been taking care of things.”
2. Elizabeth Edwards’s Public Meltdown
After a tabloid reported Edwards’s affair with Rielle Hunter in 2007, his wife Elizabeth became “very upset” at an airport, collapsing and curling into a ball in the parking lot, a witness testified. Having previously battled breast cancer, she told her husband, “You don’t see me anymore” and then tore off her shirt and bra. Three years later, Elizabeth died of the disease at age 61.
3. Edwards Called Mistress a “Crazy Slut”
Edwards reacted to news that Hunter was pregnant with his child by calling his mistress a “crazy slut,” a former close aide testified. Edwards also said there was only a “three-in-one chance” the baby was his. Later, when practicing for his public statement, Edwards was prepared to say he did in fact love Hunter, but that there relationship was “complicated,” according to a witness.
4. Vice Presidential Hopes Even During Scandal
Even as Edwards’s campaign collapsed amid scandal, he still had visions of political glory, asking a campaign advisor to contact Barack Obama’s campaign to say Edwards was available as a vice presidential running mate. He also thought he could be appointed attorney general, with an eye toward becoming a Supreme Court justice one day. A former aide described Edwards as “deluded.”
5. Money, Money and More Money
Prosecutors ended their case by displaying records of money from a campaign supporter allegedly used to hide Hunter after a tabloid found her secretly living in a house near the Edwards estate. The tab included $80,0000 for private jets, a $20,000-a-month mansion in Santa Barbara, $40,000 in bills for posh hotels and nearly $320,000 in cash, prosecutors alleged.