Feds want 2 out of Edwards trial

Say testimony 'not helpful'

ablythe@newsobserver.comNovember 30, 2011 

Federal prosecutors in the John Edwards case are trying to prevent two former Federal Elections Commission chairmen from testifying as expert witnesses in the criminal case against the former presidential candidate.

In a document filed in federal court Monday, prosecutors contend that Scott Thomas and Robert Lenhard, former FEC chairmen, who have raised questions about the prosecution's definition of campaign contributions, should not be classified as expert witnesses.

Prosecutors contend that what the two men would offer are legal conclusions that would usurp the authority of the judge, the trial court's "own legal expert."

"(E)xpert opinion testimony that simply states legal conclusions is generally not helpful to the jury and is properly excludable," the prosecutors argue in their motion.

Edwards, 58, is accused of violating campaign finance laws by secretly obtaining and using contributions from two wealthy supporters to hide his mistress and her pregnancy from the public during his unsuccessful bid for president in 2008.

The payments covered living, medical and other expenses for Rielle Hunter, a videographer with whom he had an extramarital affair and a daughter. Prosecutors argue the donations were campaign contributions meant to hide the affair so Edwards could keep his presidential bid alive. They also contend the contributions exceeded legal limits.

Thomas and Lenhard have submitted letters on behalf of Edwards saying they did not believe the payments could be considered campaign contributions.

Since Edwards' arrest this summer, legal scholars have raised questions about the strength of the prosecution's case, often citing the opinions of the former FEC chairmen as signs of weakness.

Now as the case moves closer to a trial scheduled to begin in mid-February, prosecutors want to prohibit the former elections law chairmen from testifying.

Their request comes the same day as defense attorneys are pushing for more particulars from prosecutors about the case.

The defense team has argued that prosecutors have not specified where some of the criminal acts were to have occurred.

"Many of the alleged criminal acts are alleged to have occurred in North Carolina and 'elsewhere,' in some unnamed location, which is particularly problematic as Mr. Edwards was crisscrossing the country, campaigning at all relevant times in the Indictment," defense attorneys said in a documented filed in federal court Monday.

Edwards has said he did not break the law and looks forward to proving that.

His attorneys continue to push for more details from prosecutors about how they plan to proceed with the case.

Prosecutors argued Edwards has information about the crimes he is alleged of committing. Defense attorneys say the case is vague.

Without more details, defense attorneys said in documents submitted this week in federal court, "Mr. Edwards will be forced to defend against vague allegations that he conspired with unknown individuals (although 'known' to the government); ...prove ...he 'caused' a crime to be committed, even though he is not told how he did so. This is a bit Kafkaesque."

The issues, at some point, will go before Catherine Eagles, the federal judge who has presided over much of the case.

Blythe: 919-836-4948

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