John Edwards, who was the Democratic vice presidential nominee in 2004 and a leading contender for the party's presidential nomination in 2008, was indicted by a grand jury in North Carolina today on charges connected to money provided for his mistress that came from two of Edwards' political supporters.
Prosecutors have decided "that the hundreds of thousands of dollars two Edwards donors gave to help keep his mistress in hiding were contributions that should have been reported publicly by his campaign fund because they aided his bid for the Democratic White House nomination. Edwards' lawyers have argued that the funds were gifts from friends intended to keep the affair a secret from his wife, Elizabeth, who died of cancer in December."
NPR has also confirmed the news and reports that Edwards is to be arraigned later today. And The Raleigh News Observer has posted the indictment here.
There's an analysis of whether Edwards broke the law or not over at USAToday.com. The bottomline: "Veteran prosecutors and campaign-finance experts say the answer is not clear-cut."
Update at 3:22 p.m. ET. Edwards Says "I Have Done Wrong," But "I Did Not Break The Law."
Outside the courthouse in Winston-Salem, N.C., where he pleaded not guilty, Edwards just made a short statement.
"There's no question that I have done wrong," he said, and that he will regret what he did — the affair — "for the rest of my life."
"But I did not break the law," Edwards added, "and I never thought I was breaking the law."
Update at 3:20 p.m. ET. Not Guilty Plea Entered:
The Associated Press reports that, as expected, Edwards has pleaded not guilty.
Update at 2:55 p.m. ET. Unprecedented?
On All Things Considered later today, NPR's Carrie Johnson will report that Kelly Kramer, a Washington lawyer who has represented members of Congress in criminal investigations, says he's "never seen a campaign finance case that's based on an allegation that a candidate's covering up an affair. ... Prosecutors must have been offended at some of the conduct that they saw here."
And Jan Baran, who works with campaign finance law, tells Carrie that "almost always the candidates are not aware of the illegal nature of the donations and therefore are not the subject of prosecutions." But in this case, as Carrie says, prosecutors argue that Edwards not only knew what was going on, but brainstormed with aides about who would have enough money to help his mistress. The supporters they turned to: personal injury lawyer Fred Baron and wealthy heiress Rachel "Bunny" Mellon.
Update at 2:25 p.m. ET. More From Edwards' Attorney.
Outside the courthouse in Winston-Salem where Edwards will be arraigned, attorney Gregory Craig just said that:
"No one has ever been charged, either civilly or criminally, with the claims that have been brought against Sen. Edwards today. This is an unprecedented prosecution ... no one would have known, or should have known, or could have been expected to know, that these payments would be treated or should be considered as campaign contributions. And there was no way Sen. Edwards knew that fact either."
Update at 1 p.m. ET. Read The Indictment.
Just click on "Ewards Indictment" and it should pop up:
Update at 11:45 a.m. ET. Edwards Will Plead Not Guilty:
"John Edwards will tell the court he is innocent of all charges, and will plead not guilty," his lead counsel, Gregory Craig, says in a statement sent to reporters. "He did not break the law and will mount a vigorous defense."
Update at 11:35 a.m. ET. Response From Edwards' Defense Team.
The News Observer has posted a statement from Scott Thomas, former chairman of the Federal Election Commission. He makes the case that:
"Under the law as developed by the United States courts and the Federal Election Commission, these payments would not be considered to be either campaign contributions or campaign expenditures within the meaning of the campaign finance laws; that the Federal Election Commission, if asked, would conclude that these payments did not constitute a violation of the law, even as a civil matter; and that the facts do not make out a knowing and willful violation of the campaign finance laws warranting criminal prosecution."
Update at 11:30 a.m. ET. The Penalties.
According to a statement released by the Department of Justice:
"If convicted, Edwards faces a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine on the conspiracy charge. He faces five years in prison and a $250,000 fine on each count of accepting and receiving illegal campaign contributions, and a maximum of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine on the charge of concealing the alleged illegal donations."
Update at 10:52 a.m. ET. The Alleged Payments:
According to the indictment, nearly $900,000 allegedly ended up being involved. The funds were spent on rent, medical car, travel and other expenses rung up by Rielle Hunter, the woman with whom Edwards had the affair.
Update at 10:40 a.m. ET. "Family Man Image."
The indictment begins with this:
"From in or about 1999 until in or about 2005, JOHNNY REID 'JOHN' EDWARDS ('EDWARDS') was a United States Senator from the State of North Carolina. From in or about 2007 until in or about 2008, EDWARDS was a candidate for the office of President of the United States. A centerpiece of EDWARDS' candidacy was his public image as a devoted family man. The communication strategy developed by EDWARDS' campaign stressed the importance of publicizing, among other things, 'that [EDWARDS'] family comes first.' "
It then goes on to say that "from in or about February 2006 through at least in or about August 2008, EDWARDS had an extramarital affair with Person B, which resulted in a pregnancy and the birth of a child."
And from there, the indictment alleges, a conspiracy began to hide the affair and pregnancy and to use money given to Edwards by two supporters to do that.
For much more about the Edwards story, the News Observer has an extensive archive of stories.
Update at 10:35 a.m. ET: As NPR's Carrie Johnson reports, there are six counts in the indictment — one alleging conspiracy, four alleging illegal campaign contributions and one alleging false statements.