scorecardFormer presidential candidate John Edwards was accused of funneling nearly $1 million in donor contributions to support his pregnant mistress and criminally charged with a campaign finance violation. Here's how the case played out.
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Former presidential candidate John Edwards was accused of funneling nearly $1 million in donor contributions to support his pregnant mistress and criminally charged with a campaign finance violation. Here's how the case played out.

Katherine Tangalakis-Lippert   

Former presidential candidate John Edwards was accused of funneling nearly $1 million in donor contributions to support his pregnant mistress and criminally charged with a campaign finance violation. Here's how the case played out.
PoliticsPolitics2 min read
Former US Sen. John Edwards exits the federal court May 31, 2012 in Greensboro, North Carolina. (Photo by Sara D. Davis/Getty Images)    Sara D. Davis/Getty Images
  • Former presidential candidate John Edwards was charged with campaign finance violations in 2011.
  • The DOJ accused Edwards of funneling nearly $1 million in donations to his pregnant mistress.

Legal experts are debating what the outcome of a trial might be after a Manhattan grand jury indicted former President Donald Trump on Thursday, likely over a hush-money payment made to adult film actress Stormy Daniels.

Those experts don't have to look far to find precedent: The last time a grand jury criminally charged a presidential candidate for payments made to a mistress, John Edwards faced up to 30 years in prison and $1.5 million in fines. That was in 2011.

Edwards was John Kerry's vice presidential running mate in 2004 in the pair's losing race against George W. Bush and Dick Cheney prior to launching his own presidential campaign in 2008.

The felony charges the former North Carolina Senator faced in 2011 — one count of conspiracy to violate federal campaign finance laws and lie to the Federal Election Commission (FEC), four counts of accepting and receiving illegal campaign contributions, and one count of concealing those illegal donations from the FEC — stemmed from his own 2008 campaign. Each carried a maximum five-year term in prison and a $250,000 fine.

"Mr. Edwards is alleged to have accepted more than $900,000 in an effort to conceal from the public facts that he believed would harm his candidacy," Assistant Attorney General Breuer said in a June 2011 Department of Justice statement regarding the indictment.

A yearlong investigation and trial alleged that Edwards conspired with his campaign staff to hide that in 2007 the candidate had fathered a daughter with his mistress, all while his wife battled breast cancer.

Edwards later admitted to the affair, that he was the father of the girl, and was financially supporting the pair. His wife, Elizabeth, filed for separation after Edwards admitted the child was his, but died of her illness before the criminal charges were brought.

In the case against him, DOJ officials argued Edwards orchestrated a series of illegal donations to provide hush-money payments to his mistress, then conspired with his staff to lie about the affair and cover up the illegal donations with check memos like "chairs," "antique table," and "bookcase."

Legal experts regarded the case as shaky because the charges were not based on a specific federal statute, but an advisory FEC opinion that argued gifts made to political candidates should be considered campaign contributions, CNN and the Washington Post reported at the time.

After nine days of deliberations, a jury acquitted Edwards of one charge of accepting an illegal donation, ABC News reported, but was hopelessly deadlocked on the other five counts, resulting in a mistrial. The Department of Justice chose not to re-try Edwards, Politico reported in 2012.

"It's not illegal to be a pig," Brett Kappel, a Washington campaign finance expert, told the Washington Post at the time. "Is what Edwards did slimy? Absolutely. Everyone will agree it was reprehensible. But it's not a crime."

Edwards didn't respond to Insider's request for comment, which was sent to his law firm.

Trump, meanwhile, is expected to turn himself in to the Manhattan district attorney next week.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to reflect recent developments.




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