Lawyers representing former presidential candidate John Edwards are intensifying their efforts to have the criminal case against him thrown out, filing a pile of motions to augment their argument that prosecutors have no valid reason to put the former North Carolina senator on trial.
The stack filed Tuesday came in reply to filings last month by federal prosecutors, who continue to pursue the charges of campaign finance violation. The case against the 2004 Democratic vice presidential nominee, lawyers James Cooney and Abbe Lowell argue, is both tainted by political calculation and based on incoherent legal theories that would turn the entire U.S. campaign finance system upside down if validated by a court.
"It takes the government 65 pages to explain to the court why it should have been clear to Mr. Edwards that this conduct (assuming that it occurred as alleged) violated the federal election laws," the lawyers wrote in response to prosecutors' earlier filings.
Edwards was charged this year with using about $1 million in undisclosed payments from his campaign finance chairman and a wealthy 98-year-old widow to cover up an affair during his 2008 run for the White House. The affair was with videographer Rielle Hunter, who later gave birth to his child. He has pleaded not guilty.
In the latest filings, Cooney and Lowell argue that prosecutors are employing a "radical theory" in pursuing Edwards that depends on twisting the meaning of terms like "campaign-related" expenses.
"If what is campaign-related is so broadly construed that it reaches anything that protects a candidate's reputation, including payments to conceal a mistress or hide a child conceived out of wedlock," the lawyers write, "then the government is saying that these are expenses the campaign could have paid for."
In other words, they write, the prosecutors' argument would allow a campaign to use money, "including federal matching funds, to pay for a candidate to conceal a mistress, conceal an unwed pregnant daughter and, one would imagine, even to pay for an abortion to hide evidence of an affair (that could obviously hurt a candidate's image)."
Edwards' team also says the case is tainted by the political calculations of former U.S. Attorney George Holding, an appointee of President George W. Bush who initiated the investigation against Edwards and who has since declared plans to run for Congress.
"This was a win-win situation for Mr. Holding politically," the lawyers argue. If Holding indicted Edwards, he could use that to further his political career as a Republican who challenged a once-powerful Democrat. If the Obama administration had scrapped the case instead of allowing it to go forward, Holding "surely would have turned his sights on the administration, claiming that it was merely playing politics in protecting a fellow Democrat," the lawyers wrote.
A call to Holding late Wednesday evening was not returned, but he has told The Associated Press that even as a former U.S. attorney, he can't comment on a pending case.
Last month, prosecutors hit back at the political motivation argument, saying it is "based entirely on speculative political theories and unfortunate attacks aimed at former United States Attorney George Holding, and largely ignores the fact that the investigation was conducted entirely by career prosecutors."
Prosecutors further argue that the contributions from the two donors used to cover up the affair with Hunter were not gifts, but campaign contributions.