Edwards Case Starts with Opening Arguments
Lawyers on each side painted different pictures of former Senator John Edwards on the first day of his trial at the federal courthouse in Greensboro. In his opening statement Monday morning prosecutor David Harbach II described Edwards as a man felled by his own ambition who illegally used campaign funds from his 2008 presidential bid to cover up his mistress Rielle Hunter during her pregnancy and deny fathering her child. Harbach tagged the one-time campaign videographer as “a loose cannon” whose existence threatened the campaign.
“He made a choice,” Harbach said, arguing the evidence would show Edwards a conniver who sought to protect his presidential ambitions by using unreported and illegal contributions to keep his affair and his child from derailing his quest for the White House.
“He made a choice to break the law,” Harbach said. "He made a choice to take hundreds of thousands of dollars.”
Harbach’s father watched his son open the Justice Department’s case against the former senator from a crowded pew in Judge Catherine C. Eagles’ first floor courtroom. It was so packed with reporters and spectators that long lines formed in the hallway of people hoping to get in. Leaving the room for any reason would mean forfeiting one’s seat and going to the back of the line.
Harbach told the 9 men and 7 women (12 regular and 4 alternate) of the jury that Edwards most surely knew nearly $1 million dollars was not just gift money from friends helping him try to hide his girlfriend from his wife.
Clearly it was to protect his campaign and further his presidential ambitions, according to Harbach.
Hiding his mistress and their child might have been a sin, the defense countered – but it was not a crime.
Opening for Edwards, attorney Allison Van Laningham contended that money was really a scheme hatched by former aide Andrew Young and his wife Cheri to get money. Most of the cash inveigled from Rachel “Bunny” Mellon went into their $1.5 million house, with the rest used to cover Hunter’s medical and other expenses. She urged jurors to follow the money, follow the facts.
“John Edwards is not afraid of the truth,” Van Laningham said. “The truth may be a sin, but it is not a crime. … John Edwards committed many sins, but no crime. … Humiliation is what motivated (him) … to not be humiliated by this affair and for his wife not to be humiliated by it either.”
She focused on four points: the route of the money from donors to the Youngs, Edwards’ hope to protect himself and his wife from humiliation, that this was a private and not a political matter, and that he had no criminal intent.
Edwards’ oldest daughter Cate Edwards sat in the front row behind her father with her grandparents, Wallace and Bobbie Edwards of Robbins.
At a break in the trial, after hearing Van Laningham’s opening argument, all three were in an upbeat mood and thought things were going well. Edwards said he hoped – once this was all over – to return to working for the things that had been the centerpiece of two presidential bids: a better chance for working and lower class Americans.
“I hope I can,” he said.
The prosecution’s first witness was his former aide, but most of Young’s afternoon testimony dealt with how he came to work closely with Edwards. He told of meeting Mellon and working to get the senator to visit her, of early visits to her palatial estate decked out with “Edwards for President” signs and banners.
“I’m going to do everything I can to make you president of the United States,” he said Mellon told Edwards at their first meeting.
“He was very excited about it – that somebody simply wanted him to become president, but didn’t want anything in return,” Young said.
The judge called an early halt to the afternoon’s testimony, noting that members of the jury had had to appear early. Harbach told the judge that Young’s continued testimony would be likely to take up the entire second day.
See the full story in Wednesday’s edition of The Pilot.
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