A federal judge in North Carolina on Thursday denied an attempt by former presidential candidate John Edwards to get criminal charges against him dismissed, clearing the way for a trial to begin next year.
U.S. District Court Judge Catherine C. Eagles in Greensboro ruled that the federal government's case against the former U.S. senator can go forward, denying five motions by his legal team intended to keep the case against him from going to a jury. Still, Edwards said he was pleased with the outcome.
"After all these years, I finally get my day in court and people get to hear my side of this, and what actually happened," Edwards said. "And what I know with complete and absolute certainty is I didn't violate campaign laws and I never for a second believed I was violating campaign laws."
Edwards is scheduled to be tried in January on charges that he asked two wealthy campaign donors to provide nearly $1 million in secret payments used to hide his pregnant mistress as he sought the Democratic Party's nomination for the White House in 2007 and early 2008.
While prosecutors allege Edwards sought and directed the payments, the former candidate says he knew nothing of the checks, cash and private jets used to fly the woman, Rielle Hunter, across the country and put her up in luxury homes and hotels.
Much of the undisclosed money was funneled to Andrew Young, a close aide to Edwards who left the campaign and falsely claimed paternity of the senator's illegitimate child. Young and his wife invited the pregnant Hunter to live in their home near Chapel Hill and later traveled with her as tabloid reporters sought to expose the candidate's extramarital affair.
In an lengthy hearing Wednesday, Edwards' defense team argued the candidate's actions didn't amount to a crime, that the government's indictment relies on flawed legal reasoning, that the grand jury process was tainted and that the Republican prosecutor who supervised the investigation was motivated by partisanship.
They also argued that the government's case relies on a "crazy" interpretation of federal law where money that was never handled by a campaign or deposited in a campaign account can be defined as campaign contributions. They said if the prosecution's case succeeds, it could theoretically mean any money a candidate spends while running for office could be classified as a campaign expense.
Eagles disagreed, pointing out that no candidate ever has been accused in a scheme exactly like the one Edwards is accused of orchestrating.
"It does not mean the government's case is novel," Eagles concluded. "It could just mean the facts are novel."
However, Eagles dismissed the motions without prejudice, meaning Edwards' defense team can still raise the issues at trial if evidence that could undermine the government's case is introduced.
Abbe Lowell, one of Edwards' lawyers, said the defense was not surprised the case is headed to trial.
"It doesn't take much for the government to get through a pretrial motion, where you have to accept the allegations of the government as true," Lowell said. "This is just the beginning."
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