One soap opera was ending, and another was supposed to be on deck. David Crabtree, anchor of WRAL television, had to reassure fans of The Young and the Restless that theyd be able to catch the show on the stations web site as news was breaking to conclude a courtroom soap of several weeks, the campaign finance trial of former North Carolina U.S. Sen. John Edwards.
Edwards was found not guilty on one of six counts, the one being that he had accepted illegal campaign contributions from heiress Rachel Bunny Mellon. Federal District Judge Catherine Eagles ruled a mistrial on five other charges, which prosecutors could bring to trial again.
Johnny Reid Edwards, 59 years old in less than two weeks, was the small-town fellow with the gleaming smile and the gift of courtroom gab and for a time, the very real possibility of becoming president of the United States. That dream long ago ended, and Edwards life, despite his courtroom victory, is hardly at peace.
The trial issue was whether Edwards knowingly broke campaign finance laws in having hundreds of thousands of dollars from two friends be used to hide his pregnant girlfriend during his 2008 campaign.
One of the friends was a lawyer (now deceased) named Fred Baron and the other the famous Bunny Mellon, now 101, a Virginia heiress who was infatuated with Edwards candidacy. Was the money meant to hide the girlfriend and the pregnancy from Edwards wife, Elizabeth, then suffering from the cancer that killed her in December of 2010? Or, was its purpose to keep his presidential hopes alive, thus making the funds fall under the illegal category of unreported campaign contributions?
The former made it rather distasteful. The latter made it against the law, with a possibility of a big fine and jail time.
Today Edwards is a winner of sorts, but the trial wounded him. By the reckoning of witnesses, the smile hid an ego of huge proportion, and a personality that bordered on narcissism.
One witness, the governments top witness, in fact, was Andrew Young, a key figure in the trial just concluded. Young was so enamored of Edwards and the possibility that he, Young, would enjoy a position of power in the White House that he took the fall at Edwards request, he said for fathering an illegitimate child by Rielle Hunter. That was the woman who met Edwards in New York and commenced an affair along with a campaign job.
In time, aides became suspicious. And then Edwards elected to the Senate in 1998, the Democratic vice presidential nominee in 2004 and for a time running strong before the 2008 campaign ended was of all things caught in a California hotel by the National Enquirer.
Youngs book, The Politician, and an investigation by the U.S. Attorneys Office (headed then by George Holding, now a Republican candidate for Congress out of Raleigh), brought Edwards story to a fever pitch. Ultimately it came to trial in Greensboro.
Holding, appointed by President George W. Bush, left office before the trial.
Now the question is whether the government will bring the case again on the five undecided counts. To go back to court, when jurors after nine days of deliberations were clearly stymied and found Edwards not guilty on one of the most serious counts, would be a stretch. And Young, who used some of the money given to hide Hunter to pay for a home he and his wife were building, had credibility problems as a witness.
Unfaithfulness begat lies, which begat scandal, which begat more lies, which ultimately begat a long trial in which one tawdry tale after another came to light. John Edwards came out of nowhere in politics and got bigger and bigger and bigger.
And how hard did he fall.