WASHINGTON — Federal prosecutors will not retry John Edwards on charges of violating of campaign-finance law after a six-week trial ended in a hung jury May 31.
The U.S. Department of Justice dropped all remaining charges against the former Democratic presidential candidate Wednesday, saying it was in the best interest of justice.
Last month, 12 jurors failed to reach a unanimous verdict on five of the six counts against Edwards, 58. The Greensboro jury found Edwards not guilty on one charge that he received an illegal campaign contribution from 101-year-old Virginia heiress Rachel “Bunny” Mellon.
“We knew that this case – like all campaign finance cases – would be challenging,” Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer, of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, said in a statement. “But it is our duty to bring hard cases when we believe that the facts and the law support charging a candidate for high office with a crime.”
Edwards’ lawyers said in a statement that they were grateful the Justice Department would not seek another trial.
Calling the prosecution’s case a “novel theory,” Abbe Lowell, Allison Van Laningham and Alan W. Duncan said the matter never should have been handled by the courts and more appropriately would be resolved by the Federal Election Commission.
“While John has repeatedly admitted to his sins, he has also consistently asserted, as we demonstrated at the trial, that he did not violate any campaign law nor even imagined that any campaign laws could apply,” Edwards’ attorneys said. “We are confident that the outcome of any new trial would have been the same. We are very glad that, after living under this cloud for over three years, John and his family can have their lives back and enjoy the peace they deserve.”
If found guilty, Edwards, 58, faced a five-year prison sentence for each count.
Lawyers estimate the Justice Department and U.S. Attorney’s Office spent more than $2 million on its two-year investigation into whether Edwards, a former U.S. senator from North Carolina, violated campaign-finance law in his run for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination.
Prosecutors alleged that Edwards conspired to secretly obtain more than $900,000 from two wealthy donors in order to hide his then-pregnant mistress, Rielle Hunter.
“I think they put on as good a case as they could put on,” said Carl Tobias, a law professor at the University of Richmond. “But most people questioned whether it was really illegal. Was it a criminal act? And a lot of people, who I respect, were unsure. And that makes it a difficult case.”
Thousands of exhibits were introduced during the trial at the Greensboro federal courthouse, including a taped TV interview from August 2008 in which Edwards lied about being the father of Hunter’s baby.
The jurors deliberated for nearly two weeks. One juror, Cindy Aquaro, said they spent days trying to determine whether any of $900,000 from two wealthy donors could be considered a campaign donation.
Aquaro told The News & Observer she would not recommend retrying the case.
In his statement, Breuer said the government respected the jurors’ decision.
“In the interest of justice, we have decided not to retry Mr. Edwards on those counts,” he said.