Around the Nation
5:47 am
Wed May 16, 2012

Will Edwards Take The Stand On His Own Behalf?

Originally published on Wed May 16, 2012 12:07 pm

Transcript

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

In North Carolina, now this could be the last day of testimony in the John Edwards trial. At a federal courthouse, the former presidential candidate is being tried on six counts of campaign finance violations. Prosecutors say Edwards used nearly a million dollars to conceal an affair and hide the child he fathered with a mistress. The defense says Edwards wasn't fully aware of the cover-up and that any money connected with it did not come from campaign contributions.

Jeff Tiberii of North Carolina Public Radio has more.

JEFF TIBERII, BYLINE: A handsome middle-aged man who tried to hide an affair from his dying wife, John Edwards, sits at the defense table. In just days the former Senator could be convicted of campaign finance violations, or could simply walk out of the Greensboro courthouse a free man.

The trial has already seen 30 witnesses with plenty of emotional testimony and salacious details that while possibly exposing the character of Edwards, have little to do with campaign finance law.

Former federal prosecutor Kieran Shanahan is now an attorney in Raleigh who has been observing the trial.

KIERAN SHANAHAN: Every witness that the government called obviously had something good and helpful to their case. I think in cross-examination they did a very good job of scoring points on behalf of John Edwards. And the jury is going to be instructed that the burden of proof at all times rests with the government, then I think it's advantage of the defense.

TIBERII: The prosecution alleges Edwards was part of a plan to hide his mistress Rielle Hunter and the child he fathered with her by using more than $930,000 from two wealthy donors. At the heart of the case is whether or not that money was a campaign contribution or a private gift.

HAMPTON DELLINGER: It's going to be hard for this case to stand under this statute, the Federal Election Campaign Act, which requires a knowing and willful violation.

TIBERII: Hampton Dellinger is a lawyer who used to teach Campaign Election Law at Duke University. None of the witnesses for either side have testified that Edwards was a knowing and willing participant in the cover-up.

Earlier this week, the defense called a former Federal Election Commission chairman to testify. The judge put strict limitations on what Scott Thomas could say before the jury. Dellinger says Thomas still helped the Edwards defense.

DELLINGER: But they got a key statement from him, that in his 35 years of election law, no one had ever raised the issue of payments from one third party to another, payments to cover-up a mistress, being one that had to be reported. That may be vital; it may be all Edwards needs from the regulator.

TIBERII: Even after Edwards was indicted last June, the FEC ruled that money from those two donors didn't need to be included in financial reports because the organization didn't consider it a campaign donation. However, the judge didn't allow the jury to hear that piece of testimony.

Overall, law experts say the evidence against Edwards is largely circumstantial, but a conviction is still possible. Edwards didn't write any checks and none were made out or sent to him, but some witnesses have said the former Senator was aware that a cover-up was taking place.

After 14 days of government witnesses, the defense has taken less than a week and could rest today.

For NPR News, I'm Jeff Tiberii in Greensboro, North Carolina.

GREENE: Now, we should add that it was thought that John Edwards himself might take the stand in this case. But this morning, attorneys for the defense announced that neither Edwards nor his former mistress, Rielle Hunter, will be called to testify.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GREENE: This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.

Related program: