Opening arguments will begin Monday in the trial of John Edwards, a two-time Democratic presidential hopeful accused of illegally using political campaign money to hide a love affair from the public and his cancer-stricken wife.
Edwards, a former senator who was White House candidate John Kerry’s vice presidential choice in 2004, faces six charges related to accepting nearly $1 million to hide his affair with videographer Rielle Hunter and the child he fathered with her.
In the indictment, prosecutors argue that Edwards broke the law by accepting the cash as an illegal contribution to his 2008 presidential campaign so he could maintain his image as a model family man.
At the time Edwards was married to his college sweetheart, attorney Elizabeth Edwards. The couple had four children, including a teenage son who died in a freak automobile accident in 1996.
By all appearances it was a model family — so perfect that in 2007 a charity even granted Edwards an award as “Father of the Year.”
Lawyers for Edwards argue that the contributions were personal gifts from rich friends to hide the affair from his wife, and were unrelated to the campaign.
The money came from wealthy Texas lawyer Fred Baron, who died in 2008, and Rachel “Bunny” Mellon, now 101, the widow of banking heir Paul Mellon.
Baron’s widow is on the list of witnesses along with an attorney representing Mellon, who is too frail to travel to Greensboro from her Virginia estate.
At the time, under federal law individuals could give a maximum of $2,300 for a political campaign.
The case relies heavily on testimony from Andrew Young, a former close Edwards aide who initially claimed to be the father of baby Quinn so the politician could continue his 2008 presidential bid.
Young later wrote a tell-all book about the affair in which he detailed an elaborate cover-up.
Elizabeth Edwards attracted enormous sympathy when it became known she had battled cancer while grappling with her husband’s infidelity. She died in December 2010.
Edwards publicly admitted to the affair with Hunter in August 2008, after his presidential bid ended, but refused to publicly recognize that he had fathered the child until January 2010.
Edwards faces one count of conspiracy to violate federal campaign finance laws and lying about expenses, four counts of accepting and receiving illegal campaign contributions from two donors in 2007 and 2008, and one count of hiding those illegal donations from authorities.
Each charge carries a prison sentence of up to five years and a $250,000 fine.