The charges against Edwards were serious; he could have spent 30 years in federal prison if convicted on all counts. But a decade later, a former president — Donald Trump — is potentially facing a lot more legal exposure.
On Thursday, March 30, 2023, Trump became the first former president in United States history to be indicted by a Manhattan grand jury. The indictment was sealed, but the following day, CNN reported that Trump, according to sources, was facing "more than 30 counts related to business fraud." The prosecutor overseeing that case is Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg Jr. who has been investigating hush money payments made to porn star Stormy Daniels in 2016.
Simultaneously, Trump is facing separate criminal investigations that include two by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and special counsel Jack Smith and one by Fulton County, Georgia District Attorney Fani Willis.
The six federal charges that Edwards faced in 2011 and 2012 included a conspiracy charge, a charge of making false statements and four counts of illegal campaign contributions. On May 31, 2012, CNN reported that if Edwards were found guilty on all six counts, he could have received a 30-year prison sentence and a $1.5 million fine.
According to federal prosecutors, Edwards violated campaign laws in order to cover up an extramarital affair. The ex-senator's wife Elizabeth Edwards, who died in 2010, was suffering from cancer during the affair. A jury found John Edwards "not guilty" on one of the six charges, but the jurors could not come to an agreement on the other five — and the judge declared a mistrial. DOJ opted not to retry the case.
Trump is scheduled to be arraigned on Tuesday, April 4. Michael Cohen, Trump's former personal attorney and "fixer," alleges that he paid $130,000 in hush money to Daniels on Trump's behalf in 2016 and was reimbursed by the Trump Organization. Possibly, the charges Trump will face will be similar to some of the charges that Edwards faced, but that remains to be seen. And whatever happens with the Manhattan DA's office, Bragg is by no means the only prosecutor who Trump needs to be worried about.
Smith, appointed by U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland, is conducting two Trump-related investigations at the same time: one pertaining to government documents being stored at Mar-a-Lago, the other on the January 6, 2021 insurrection and the events leading up to it. Meanwhile, Willis is investigating Trump's efforts to overturn the 2020 election results in Georgia and pressure officials into helping him. Trump claimed that the election was stolen from him in the Peach State, but Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp and Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger — both conservative Republicans — maintained that now-President Joe Biden won the state fairly and that there was no evidence to support Trump's election fraud claims.
Some legal experts find it intriguing that the first indictment of Trump is connected to Bragg's investigation, as the probes being conducted by Smith and Willis involve more serious allegations — including efforts to overturn democratic election results. Never before had a U.S. president lost an election, falsely claimed that he didn't and gone to such extremes in order to stay in power.
When the January 6 Select Committee concluded in 2022, it recommended to DOJ four possible federal criminal charges for Trump: incitement to insurrection, obstruction of an official proceeding, conspiracy to defraud the U.S., and conspiracy to make a false statement. But DOJ has the option of either following or not following those recommendations.
No president or former president in U.S. history has had more legal exposure than Trump — not even Richard Nixon during the Watergate scandal of the 1970s. Former Watergate prosecutor Jill Wine-Banks, John Dean (who served as White House counsel under Nixon) and long-time Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein (who reported on Watergate extensively) have all commented that the allegations against Nixon pale in comparison to all the scandals that have surrounded Trump. According to Wine-Banks, Dean, Woodward and Bernstein, Trump crossed lines that even Nixon wouldn’t have dared to cross.
After his resignation in August 1974, Nixon never ran for office again. Trump, however, is seeking the 2024 GOP presidential nomination while facing multiple criminal probes at the same time. And the Manhattan grand jury's indictment of Trump on March 30 may be only the tip of the iceberg.