For the past few days I’ve been reading up on the indictment of John Edwards, which alleges that the former presidential candidate conspired with others to illegally channel campaign funds to cover up an affair – all to protect his presidential campaign.
I read articles and opinions from a range of newspapers and blogs all saying essentially the same thing, commenting on the scandal of it all, expressing sympathy for his children, proclaiming the demise of Edwards’s political and legal career. But even after reading for several hours, I realized I had gained no concrete understanding of the legal proceedings surrounding the John Edwards case. The press seems to have explored every personal and political angle surrounding the issue, distracted by the sensational from the fact that besides the development of a formal indictment there’s really nothing new to say about John Edwards.
So let’s look at the document itself. We can assume with the issuance of a formal indictment that the government does have probable cause to believe a crime was committed, and most likely believes it has evidence to support the allegations of conspiracy, illegal use of campaign funds and false statements about the use of those funds. The media neglects to explain that finding probable cause to formally charge a person with a crime is significantly easier than presenting sufficient evidence to convince a jury of those allegations beyond a reasonable doubt. Edwards has pled not guilty to committing a felony, so the challenge for the prosecution will be to prove that a contributor donated funds to cover up Edwards’s affair in order to protect his presidential campaign. The Government must further prove that Edwards knew that the payments were being made and that he knew it benefitted his campaign. However, until we know the government’s evidence we won’t know how it will prove its case.
This was supposed to be an opinion piece, but I’ve realized I can’t yet fairly form an opinion about the case, because the evidence is yet to be seen. I could speculate for pages about what will happen in court, who I think will testify, what the evidence will be, and what’s next for John Edwards, but I would only be guessing, which would be presumptuous on my part and misleading, confusing and unfair to anyone who might read this. We can say it will be interesting to see how the prosecution plans to prove Edwards’ intent, as this is a necessary element of proof the Government must establish. We can say it will be interesting to see how the conspiracy charges hold up with one alleged campaign contributor and would-be witness deceased and another 100 years old. And we can say it will be interesting to see how the press deals with the story and if they effectively cross examine, try, and convict Edwards while waiting for the jury’s official verdict.