Judge lets group help Edwards

Brief says case could cause campaign turmoil

ablythe@newsobserver.comOctober 18, 2011 

A federal judge will allow a government watchdog group to officially weigh in on the criminal case against John Edwards, the former presidential candidate accused of secretly obtaining campaign contributions to hide his pregnant mistress from the public.

CREW, an organization that generally supports public corruption prosecutions, filed a brief recently that is critical of prosecutors in a case expected to test the reach of federal election laws.

Prosecutors argued against admitting the brief filed by CREW, which stands for Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.

But Judge Catherine Eagles issued an order Monday rejecting prosecutors' attempts to keep the government watchdog group out of the case.

Edwards, 58, was charged this summer with conspiring with two wealthy supporters to pay living and medical expenses for Rielle Hunter, the videographer with whom the former senator had an extramarital affair and a child.

Prosecutors argue the more than $900,000 in payments exceeded legal limits and were campaign contributions because they were meant to hide the affair so Edwards could keep his presidential bid alive.

Edwards has said he did not break the law.

His attorneys contend the donations - from his wealthy friends to others, not him - were not campaign-related. They argue the payments were gifts on which taxes were paid as Edwards tried to hide his infidelity from his wife and his family.

CREW's brief, filed several weeks ago, argues that the government's theory on which the criminal case is based would throw the world of campaign finance into turmoil.

"If this remarkable position is upheld," Garrett Russo, a CREW spokesman, said in a statement, "candidates will be able [to] use campaign funds for nearly anything."

Monday's ruling to allow CREW to weigh in comes nearly a week before the judge is set to hear arguments in a Greensboro courtroom on whether the case should be dismissed before trial.

Defense attorneys contend that there is no legal basis for the charges, that Edwards, a Democrat, was targeted in a political prosecution by a Republican prosecutor now seeking a congressional seat.

Attorneys' issues

Prosecutors have raised questions about potential conflicts of interest for two attorneys on Edwards' defense team. The accusation caused Wade Smith, a prominent Raleigh lawyer, to bow out of the case, saying a conversation he had with a lawyer representing one of the key witnesses in the case could put him in the position of being a witness in the high-profile case.

Edwards sent a letter to the judge in response to prosecutors' contentions that Abbe Lowell, another lawyer on the defense team, might also have the potential for conflict because of his legal involvement with two other potential witnesses.

But Lowell and Edwards rejected such notions in documents filed in court this week.

Blythe: 919-836-4948

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