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John Edwards – A Hypocrite But Not a Felon

This post was written by Washington DC criminal defense attorney, David Benowitz. He received an L.L.M. in Trial Advocacy from Temple University and earned his J.D.from The George Washington University School of Law. is a Board Certified Criminal Trial Advocate by the National Board of Trial Advocacy.

John Edwards was recently indicted on six counts of campaign fraud. The government alleges that Edwards’ friends provided money, not declared as campaign contributions, that was used to cover up the existence of the child he fathered with his mistress while his wife was dying of cancer. According to the government, these were “campaign contributions” that aided his run for president by heading off negative publicity that would’ve detracted from his family values theme.

In fact the indictment 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.

Here’s the problem, or problems, with the government’s case. There is no doubt that Edwards’ conduct is morally indefensible. But you already have Scott Thomas, former head of the Federal Election Commission (FEC) with thirty years of experience at the agency. Mr. Thomas presumably knows what he’s talking about; he says that Edwards’ actions shouldn’t even result in civil liability, much less criminal. Now, he’s been retained as an expert witness by Edwards, but he’s also putting his reputation on the line in an extremely public way.

Let’s assume for the sake of argument that the government’s allegations are true – Edwards’ wealthy patrons provided him with money never declared as campaign funds. But suppose Edwards used them to obtain non-FDA approved cancer treatment for his ailing wife. Arguably, this would promote the family values campaign platform. Would this be unlawful?

Seems like the calculus used to decide whether to prosecute is skewed. You can’t prosecute someone for being a hypocritical scumbag.

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