Edwards’ Defense Admits Sins, Denies Crimes

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Scott Gustin and Ryan Sullivan, WGHP, Reporting

GREENSBORO, N.C. — Prosecutors and defense lawyers in the John Edwards trial spoke Monday morning as opening statements started in the case against John Edwards, the former presidential candidate who is accused of violating federal campaign finance laws.

Edwards, 58, pleaded not guilty to six criminal counts related to nearly $1 million in secret payments from two wealthy supporters. Much of the money was used to hide the then-married politician’s pregnant mistress during his 2008 White House campaign.

Prior to opening statements, U.S. District Court Judge Catherine C. Eagles heard two motions from Friday afternoon. One of the motions included allegations that Andrew Young had an alleged one-night-stand with a co-worker.

Young allegedly contacted the co-worker and two other future witnesses prior to the case. Eagles said she would allow the defense to bring up the fact that Young possibly contacted case witnesses, but said she will not allow them to discuss the alleged affair.

Judge Eagles also stressed the defense not label the alleged contact as “witness tampering.”

During opening statements, prosecutors argued that Edwards masterminded a conspiracy to conceal his affair. David Harbach started by stating ambition is a good quality for a presidential candidate, but said that Edwards had “too much ambition.”

“Too much ambition is dangerous,” Harbach said.

Harbach detailed his timeline of the events leading up to the affair. He said the affair started in February 2006 when Hunter and Edwards met at a bar in New York City. A few months later, Hunter was hired as a videographer for the campaign.

According to Harbach, Elizabeth Edwards found out about the affair in December 2006. She then forced John to fire Hunter from the campaign but the affair allegedly continued.

Harbach claims because Elizabeth Edwards knew about the affair, John could not have used personal money to hide the affair. Harbach said that’s when he consulted Andrew Young.He then reached out to donors asking for money.

Harbach repeatedly described the Edwards case as “Deny. Deceive. Manipulate.”

At the end of his statement, Harbach admitted his key witness Andrew Young’s hands “are not clean.” He admitted that Young did keep some of the donors’ money for himself, but Young’s knowledge of the case was crucial.

Edwards’ lawyer Allison Van Laningham started by stating Edwards is not a perfect man – but he’s also not a criminal.

“John Edwards is a man who has committed many sins, none of which are crimes,” said Edwards’ lawyer.

Edwards’ defense team has claimed the money directed to Rielle Hunter was a gift and not a campaign contribution. “Follow the money,” defense attorney Allison Van Laningham repeated on Monday.

Laningham also reiterated the point that Edwards has remained silent throughout the investigation, but today “the truth begins.”

“John Edwards wants you to know the truth. It may not be pretty, but he wants you to know the truth.”

A key issue will be whether Edwards knew about the payments made on his behalf by his national campaign finance chairman, the late Texas lawyer Fred Baron, and campaign donor Rachel “Bunny” Mellon, a now-101-year-old heiress and socialite. Each had already given Edwards’ campaign the maximum $2,300 individual contribution allowed by federal law.

Edwards denies having known about the money, which paid for private jets, luxury hotels and Hunter’s medical care. Prosecutors will seek to prove he sought and directed the payments to cover up his affair, protect his public image as a “family man” and keep his presidential hopes viable.

She called Young the manipulator and claimed Young was the one asking for large amounts of money. She also claimed Young and his wife spent the majority of the donations to build their $1.5 million home in Chapel HIll.

Court is set to resume at 2:20 p.m.

Much of the money at issue was funneled to Andrew Young, a former campaign aide once so close to Edwards that Andrews initially claimed paternity of his boss’s illegitimate child. Young and his wife invited the pregnant Hunter to live in their home near Chapel Hill and later embarked with her on a cross-country odyssey as they sought to elude tabloid reporters trying to expose the candidate’s extramarital affair.

Young later fell out with Edwards and wrote an unflattering tell-all book, “The Politician.” Young and Hunter recently ended a two-year legal battle over ownership of a sex tape the mistress recorded with Edwards during the campaign, agreeing to a settlement that dictates that copies of the video will be destroyed.

Young is expected to be a witness for the prosecution, while the defense is likely to call Hunter to testify. Two of the lawyers who represented Hunter in her civil suit against the former aide joined Edwards’ legal team last month. After years of adamant public denials, Edwards acknowledged paternity of Hunter’s daughter, Frances Quinn Hunter, in 2010. The girl, now 4, lives with her mother in Charlotte.