A Proposed Plea Deal for John Edwards

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According to reports out Wednesday, the Justice Department may be close to bringing criminal charges against John Edwards regarding campaign funds they allege he used to cover up his affair with Rielle Hunter, and to hide both Hunter and their baby daughter. In response, Edwards’ counsel Greg Craig — whom you may remember as the lawyer who helped another politician out of a memorably tricky situation — released a combative statement indicating that Edwards would not plea out, as many believed, but go to trial.

Oh, John Edwards. I think we need to have a little heart-to-heart, a care-frontation.

Believe me when I say that nobody (except, apparently, a few lawyers over at DoJ) wants to see you on trial. As we tried to make clear a few years ago when you sheepishly announced that you were the father of Rielle Hunter’s daughter, even though everyone already knew, we just want you to go away, raise your children, and darken our television screens no more.

I know you may be saying to yourself: “But I have to fight this. I’ve lost so much. My reputation is all I have left.” I am here to tell you, sir, that is not true. You lost your reputation a long time ago.

And, okay, that’s not all you stand to lose. If you plead guilty to a felony, you could also risk losing your law license, which friends say worries you because you’re interested in doing public service law. That’s an understandable concern–you’re a good lawyer, and you’ve always been most compelling when standing up for those who are least often heard. But I’m going to let you in a secret that no one ever tells lawyers because it would depress them too much as they consider the mountain of debt they accumulated in law school: You don’t have to be a lawyer to help people. And unless a plea agreement would prohibit you from ever working with someone who is a lawyer, I think you could still find a way to fight for the powerless.

I worry from the tone of your lawyer’s letter that you’re also motivated to bypass a plea agreement because you relish the idea of winning the jury over once again, of one more court victory. That and the belief that you’re being persecuted is a particularly dangerous combination. Do you remember Bill Clinton during the Starr investigation? Parsing the meaning of the word “is”? No one listened to that and thought, “What a fine legal brain Bill Clinton has!” They wanted it to go away, to hear no more of blue dresses, and to perhaps have a federal law prohibiting interns from delivering pizza to the Oval Office.

In the same way, sir, no one wants to hear arguments about how there is insufficient legal precedent to charge you with misusing funds you gave to a campaign aide whom you convinced to declare himself the real father of Rielle Hunter’s baby so that he could house Ms. Hunter and your illegitimate daughter. I just typed that and already I’ve forgotten about the legal precedent blahdedy-blah because I’m cringing all over again at how monumentally stupid you were.

So here’s my proposal, based on zero legal expertise, but a great deal of concern for the public interest:

You plead guilty to misuse of campaign funds because, c’mon, dude–while you were a candidate, you solicited money from donors that was used to support and house your mistress and love-child. Whether or not you technically handled the money yourself, or the donors considered $1 million a “personal gift,” that’s really dodgy. (Note: “dodgy” is not a real legal term.)

You also agree to no Barbara Walters interview, no People magazine profile about moving on. We don’t want to see so much as a letter to the editor in the Chapel Hill alternative weekly. No more news. Also, no more running for office. Although that wasn’t likely to be a possible future for you anyway.

I’ll let the folks over at DoJ sort out the issue of whether you should be able to keep your law license, but I just ask this: If you do retain the right to practice law, please do not go all Charlie Crist on us and start filming commercials for personal injury law. That’s just sad.

In exchange, we the people agree to let you raise your three remaining young children in peace. We don’t even care if you marry Miss Crazypants, provided that we don’t have to read about it or see pictures. We agree to let you commit yourself to a redemption project, so long as it remains about personal redemption and not redeeming your public reputation.

And we will implore the Justice Department to stay away from pursuing this kind of litigation in the future. The cost of turning a blind eye to the illegal use of campaign funds is worth the benefit of avoiding the sordid experience of wallowing in the sad and embarrassing exploits of foolish politicians. (I’m looking at you, John Ensign.)

Do we have a deal?