John Edwards Indicted

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[Updated below, 11:25 am] As expected, federal prosecutors have lowered the boom on the former North Carolina Senator and 2004 Democratic vice presidential nominee for allegedly using political money to cover up an affair that led to a secret love child. The Associated Press reports:

The case of USA v. Johnny Reid Edwards contains six counts, including conspiracy, four counts of illegal campaign contributions and one count of false statements. The indictment was returned in the Middle District of North Carolina Friday.

Despite recent reports that he might accept a plea deal that would strip him of his law license, and perhaps even send him to jail, Edwards is looking like he intends to fight the case, with the help of his powerhouse lawyer, former White House counsel Greg Craig. (Yes, that was a link to the National Enquirer. But when it comes to this story, at least, that can hardly be called an unreliable source!) As of this writing, the Edwards’ camp has not yet responded, but here’s a statement Craig issued several days ago:

John Edwards has done wrong in his life – and he knows it better than anyone — but he did not break the law.

The government’s theory is wrong on the facts and wrong on the law. It is novel and untested. There is no civil or criminal precedent for such a prosecution. The government originally investigated allegations that Senator Edwards’ campaign’s funds were misused but continued its pursuit even after finding that not one penny from the Edwards campaign was involved. The Justice Department has wasted millions of dollars and thousands of hours on a matter more appropriately a topic for the Federal Election Commission to consider, not a criminal court.

A drawn-out courtroom fight would be a fascinating spectacle, particularly if Edwards, once an accomplished trial lawyer, takes the stand for the most important effort at persuasion of his life. And particularly if the verdict hinges on the testimony of a 100-year-old billionaire named Bunny.

Update, 11:30am: Here’s the full indictment, which charges Edwards with “secretly obtaining and using” $725,000 from one unnamed donor (apparently Bunny Mellon), and another $200,000 from another (apparently Texas trail lawyer Fred Baron), to pay living, medical, travel and accomodation expenses for Rielle Hunter. Among other things, the indictment spotlights a $25,000 expense for the Four Seasons Hotel in Santa Barbara, California.

Also, Ben Smith has a defiant statement from one of Edwards’s reps, arguing that “the facts do not make out a knowing and willful violation of the campaign finance laws warranting criminal prosecution.”