Won’t pursue a re-trial on five counts.
John Edwards can breathe a big sigh of relief. The Justice Department announced Wednesday that it has dropped its case against the former presidential candidate. Edwards had been acquitted on one of six charges last month and the jury in his case could not reach verdicts on the other five counts, all relating to campaign money he allegedly used to cover up an affair with his mistress, Rielle Hunter. “In the interest of justice, we have decided not to retry Mr. Edwards on those counts,” the DOJ Criminal Division's Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer said. “We knew that hits case—like all campaign-finance cases—would be challenging.”
He escaped conviction. She got a book deal. Michelle Cottle on the ballad of Johnny and Rielle—and the lessons we can all learn from their torrid affair.
Romeo and Juliet. Lancelot and Guinevere. Catherine and Heathcliff. Buffy and Angel. To the pantheon of legendary star-crossed lovers must now be added John and Rielle.
Rielle Hunter talks about her relationship with former senator and presidential candidate John Edwards on "Good Morning America." (Ida Mae Astute / ABC)
I know. I know. It’s hard to believe the fairy tale is really over. These two crazy kids seemed so perfect for one another. And talk about an against-all-odds romance: for years it seemed as though nothing could keep Hunter and Edwards apart. Neither his dying wife nor his killjoy political handlers. Not a predatory media. Not his plot to pass off their child as someone else’s daughter. Not her posing sans culottes in GQ. Not even a zealous federal prosecutor set on tossing Johnny in the clink. Through it all, Rielle stood by her man.
Then her memoir came out.
Rielle Hunter announces her split from John Edwards.
On Tuesday, What Really Happened: John Edwards, Our Daughter, and Me hit bookstores nationwide. That same morning, Hunter revealed to ABC’s George Stephanopoulos that, late last week, she and Edwards broke up. Hunter insisted the split was mutual and ducked the question of whether it had been precipitated by any of the revelations in her book. Cynics will assume as much. Romantics may prefer to see the timing as one of those unhappy twists of fate.
Says she doesn't regret the affair.
It's book promoting time! Rielle Hunter gave an interview to People just as her new memoir is about to hit book stands. Hunter tells the magazine that she still thinks John Edwards is hot and that they are still a couple. Edwards, according to Hunter, spends days at a time at her house doing the dishes, cooking, and playing with their four-year-old, Frances Quinn. Hunter also said that she wasn’t interested in getting married but that she wouldn’t rule it out. “Marriage? Have no idea,” she said. “I’m not a big fan of the institution but never say never…I fell in love with a married man and became something I wasn’t in order to be with him.”
Details from their first steamy night together, harsh words about Elizabeth Edwards, and more heartfelt revelations from the mistress’s explosive new tell-all, ‘What Really Happened: John Edwards, Our Daughter, and Me’.
The Daily Beast's Lizzie Crocker gives a live speed read of 'What Really Happened'.
1. Hunter’s pickup line: “You are so hot!”
The first time Rielle Hunter saw John Edwards at the lobby bar of the New York Regency Hotel in February 2006, she didn’t believe it was him. “No, John Edwards is a geek. That guy’s got it going on,” she told the friend who had pointed him out. She locked eyes with the “alleged John Edwards,” which only made her more convinced that this smoldering rake wasn’t the man her friend thought he was. “John Edwards the politician is disconnected and as deep as a puddle. That man has depth and awareness,” she poetically asserted. Then, just as she was leaving, “Johnny Reid Edwards came waltzing around the corner and into my life.” Cue the fireworks: she batted her eyes, he lit up, “something electric exploded between us.” She couldn’t contain herself (and, by the way, this is so unlike her) from blurting out, “You are so hot!” Johnny ate it up.
2. Seducing Edwards turned into the “most extraordinary night of my life.”
Just what the world wanted to hear: Hunter likes to be dominated in the sack. Taking a few notes from E.L. James’s Fifty Shades of Grey, Hunter details a special “moment” during her first night with Edwards when “something in my heart clicked and I surrendered.” Wait for it: “I took off my teacher hat, let go of all my resistance to him, and let him lead.” Thankfully she spares us a pornographic play-by-play, though she gushes that “he led me toward the most extraordinary night of my life,” one which included “a lot of talk, a lot of laughter, and zero sleep.”
3. She wasn’t his first mistress!
Retrial unlikely after deadlock.
The mistrial in the case against former senator John Edwards is being seen as a huge blow to the Justice Department, as the decision to file criminal charges was made last year by Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer. After nine days of deliberation, the jury deadlocked on five of the six counts against Edwards, including charges that he illegally used millions of campaign funds to hide his pregnant mistress, Rielle Hunter, from the media during his 2008 bid for the White House. Three of the jurors went on the Today show Friday and said while all three of them believed that Edwards knew about the money, they didn't think the prosecution had enough evidence to convict. They said there had been one person who insisted on conviction and could not be swayed.
The jury in the John Edwards campaign-finance trial found him not guilty on one count—and deadlocked on five others. Diane Dimond reports from the courtroom on the stunning conclusion.
Johnny Reid Edwards got off scot free.
The former United States senator and two-time presidential candidate has been found not guilty on one charge of accepting an illegal campaign contribution during the 2007-2008 presidential campaign cycle—money he allegedly received from billionaire supporter Rachel “Bunny” Mellon in 2008. The jury could not come to a unanimous decision on five other related charges, so Judge Catherine Eagles declared a mistrial on the balance of the six-count federal indictment.
Outside of the courtroom, Edwards was apologetic. “I did an awful, awful lot that was wrong,” he said—but insisted that none of it was illegal. “Thank goodness we live in a country that has the kind of system that we have.”
Bunny Mellon and the late campaign-finance chairman Fred Baron gave about a million dollars to the Edwards campaign, which was used to hide and house the candidate’s pregnant mistress, Rielle Hunter, and later their baby. Federal prosecutors maintained that those payments constituted illegal contributions far exceeding the limit allowed by law. The defense argued that they were intended only to hide Ms. Hunter from Mr. Edwards’s cancer-stricken wife, Elizabeth, to spare her and the rest of his family public humiliation.
It was an unusual afternoon leading up to the stunning final verdict. After lunch, the jury sent a note to the judge; the waiting media and curious public was told, “We have a verdict.” There followed an excruciating 25-minute wait inside the packed and silent courtroom. The center of attention, of course, was John Edwards, who sat stoically at the defense table surrounded by his lawyers, nervously sipping water out of a styrofoam cup. His 30-year-old daughter Cate, who had given him a final pat on the back and whispered words of encouragement as they all sat down to wait, sat behind her father with Edwards’s elderly parents, Wallace and Bobbie.
Finally, Judge Eagles appeared to read the jury’s note to the court—and caution spectators about making any noise after the jury foreman announced their verdict.
As the jury enters its seventh day of deliberation, key questions remain unanswered. How much did Elizabeth know, and when did she know it? Diane Dimond finds provocative clues in a very public place.
What, exactly, is taking the John Edwards jury so long? As deliberations reconvene for a seventh day in Greensboro, N.C., court watchers are left wondering if the panel will be able to reach a verdict at all.
Diane Dimond on the Edwards jurors and evidence they didn’t see in court.
That there has been dissent among the eight men and four women tasked with reaching a decision has been evident. The panel appears in court twice each day: once to be officially dismissed for lunch and again at the end of the day. Affable juror No. 2, widely believed to be the foreman, often smiles broadly at Judge Catherine Eagles as he answers her questions. His occupation is listed as “financial adviser.” But Nos. 7 and 11 frequently enter the jury box with their arms defiantly crossed across their chests and sour looks on their faces. No. 10, a retired fire and police department employee, often covers most of his face with a large white handkerchief as if afraid of catching or spreading germs. Female juror No. 9 looks completely exhausted by the five-week trial.
What could be the sticking point? The central question in dispute is why John Edwards accepted outsiders’ money to take care of his pregnant mistress. Was it to conceal his girlfriend, Rielle Hunter, from his wife—or was it to hide her existence from the voters he hoped would elect him president of the United States? If the jury believes it was for the latter reason, then logic says they should find Edwards guilty of at least some of the six counts in the federal indictment that charges him with accepting illegal, over-the-limit campaign contributions.
Of course, as Judge Eagles explained to the jury in her final instructions, “People rarely act with a single purpose in mind,” and the jury need not declare that the funds went solely to hide the baby from Elizabeth or solely to hide Hunter from the voters. If the jury finds the benefactors would have given the money to Edwards anyway—even if there were no election—then he likely walks.
But perhaps the jury is mired in arguments about subjects that simply weren’t adequately explained during trial. Here, a primer on the pivotal issues left unresolved.
Six days into deliberations, curious signs from the jury and the defendant are raising eyebrows. As speculation of a hung jury escalates, Diane Dimond reports on the courtroom chatter.
No major American presidential candidate has ever faced the possibility of conviction on multiple felonies, so there are no guidelines about how such a defendant should act. John Edwards has chosen to wait out the jury deliberations in his federal campaign-financing corruption trial by going to afternoon baseball games—three days in a row.
Edwards leaves the courthouse with his parents on Friday—the sixth day of deliberations. (Alex Wong / Getty Images)
Along with Cate, his 30-year-old daughter, Edwards has been braving the baking North Carolina sun and walking a leisurely two blocks to the Greensboro Grasshoppers’ baseball stadium, where the 2012 Atlantic Coast Conference Baseball Championships have been underway. He hasn’t stayed for an entire game, but his very presence has surprised spectators, especially when he has stopped to sign autographs. In this well-mannered Southern town (population 269,666), the very act of being so nonchalantly public during a time of such notorious legal trouble is looked upon by some as unseemly.
Then again, John Edwards is not a typical defendant, and this is not a typical case.
Inside the federal courtroom over the last week, the wait for a verdict has become excruciating at times. The Art Deco–style chamber has been transformed into a holding pen for reporters who can’t bear the thought of missing the big moment. And since Judge Catherine Eagles has never seemed eager to accommodate the media in any, members of the press don’t risk leaving the scene—during the trial, reporters who dared to exit the courtroom, even for the regular bathroom break, were required to wait at the back of a line for reentry. Few wanted to chance it; many got grumpy as a result. Now, with the end to deliberations so uncertain, and as 90-degree heat settles over Greensboro, the odor in the room has been compared to that of a locker room.
Meanwhile, peculiar behavior from some jury members has commanded special attention. The eight-man, five-woman panel sits in an elevated jury box on the right side of the courtroom. The four alternates—one man and three bubbly young women—are escorted daily to their seats on the left side of the expansive room, and are measurably more upbeat. On Thursday, as the happy-faced alternates bounced into their seats, each was wearing a bright yellow shirt. A curious coincidence? One, a pretty 20-something pharmacist, was seen smiling broadly in the direction of the defense table.
As the jury in the John Edwards trial begins day six of deliberations, Diane Dimond on what we can infer from their evidence requests—and why they won't look Edwards in the eye.
Not even the upcoming Memorial Day holiday has enticed the jury in the John Edwards case to wrap up its deliberations.
Alex Wong / Getty Images
For the fifth day—and after more than 25 hours of backroom discussion—the jury continues to keep a courtroom full of reporters, the defendant and his family waiting for a resolution to this month-long case.
If body language is any indication, the deliberations could go on several days longer. Courtroom observers get to eyeball the jury only twice a day—once as they are dismissed for lunch and then again when they are released at 4:30 p.m. What they’ve seen is a marked decline in mood. For several days, juror number seven, a woman whose occupation is listed as “human resources,” has entered the room ahead of the others, arms crossed over her chest and a defiant look on her face. Juror number eleven, a mechanic sitting in the back row, adopts a similar posture. No longer does anyone call out “Good afternoon!” in sing-song unison to the judge’s greeting.
And it is striking that none of the jurors glance over at John Edwards—not even when they file directly in front of the defendant’s table to go to lunch with the four alternate jurors. During their mutual lunch they have been instructed by Judge Catherine Eagles not to discuss the case in front of the alternates. It was interesting to note, however, that on Thursday each of the alternates wore bright yellow shirts, causing bored reporters to wonder aloud if that had been a coordinated effort.
Waiting reporters got their first real clue that this might be a protracted deliberation yesterday when they spied a large stash of canned sodas and Costco-sized bags of potato chips and cheese puffs waiting outside the jury room door. It was hard to miss the stash as the jury room is located just past the magnetometers through which everyone must pass. It was far more snacks than what could possibly be consumed in a single day.
Closing arguments in the John Edwards trial have ended--now, the former U.S. senator's future rests in the hands of 12 men and women. Diane Dimond on the dramatic summations.
The two closing arguments were entirely different.
Former presidential candidate and Sen. John Edwards arrives at a federal courthouse in Greensboro, N.C., Thursday, May 17, 2012. Edwards has pleaded not guilty to six counts related to campaign finance violations over nearly $1 million from two wealthy donors used to help hide the Democrat's pregnant mistress as he sought the White House in 2008. (Gerry Broome / AP Photo)
Prosecutor Robert Higdon’s lead-off presentation to the jury was delivered as a down-home, straightforward, and effective story. Higdon, a man with a genteel Southern style and a perfect haircut, wove together the facts of a powerful politician’s illicit affair. He tossed in accusations about billionaire supporters whose “illegal campaign contributions” hid their friend’s pregnant mistress, and punctuated the story with a refrain about the “seeds of destruction” Edwards planted in his own life, and how they grew to choke out his political and personal ambitions. It was a simple and appealing narrative worthy of comparison to the writings of Greensboro, N.C.'s native son, O. Henry.
Also effective was lead defense attorney Abbe Lowell’s closing statement, but unlike Higdon's, it was delivered to the jury in complex sentences with multiple clauses, and peppered with the legalistic phase “reasonable doubt.” Lowell’s final minutes were full of dramatic gestures and pauses as he spoke of the Edwards family, how they have cried over this scandal. “John has made so many mistakes, but John has also paid such a large price," he emphasized. "Among the mistakes are not these charges.”
The prosecutor’s summary of the case recounted how Edwards’s campaign staffer Josh Brumberger was the first to try to warn the candidate about the “perception problem” created by the presence of videographer Rielle Hunter, who seemed way too cozy with the boss. Other senior staffers warned the Edwardses too. “Edwards denied the affair and decided to punish Mr. Brumberger,” Higdon said. “He fired the man who put the campaign above himself.”
Diane Dimond reports that the defense and prosecution’s closing arguments couldn’t have been more different.
Jaws collectively dropped at John Edwards’s trial on Wednesday as the defense made the shocking decision to rest their case. Diane Dimond on why his attorneys decided just over two days of underwhelming testimony would be enough to get their client off.
"Your honor, the defense rests."
Former presidential candidate and Sen. John Edwards, center, arrives at a federal courthouse with his parents Wallace and Bobbie Edwards, right, in Greensboro, N.C., Wednesday, May 16, 2012. (Gerry Broome / AP Photo)
And with those words, John Edwards's lead attorney ended the defense’s case of the former senator and two-time presidential hopeful against a six count federal indictment of campaign-finance violations.
Abbe Lowell and his team called just seven witnesses to the stand—and, in a stunning development, there was no testimony from Edwards' 30 year old daughter, Cate. There were some other major surprises on Wednesday: the defense did not call Edwards’ mistress to the stand, nor Edwards himself, the man made famous by smooth-talking juries. In fact, the defense case seemed to sputter to an inauspicious end with the rather dry testimony from a forensic financial analyst.
Former FBI agent James Walsh, who now runs his own private detective and analytical firm, was the last to testify on Wednesday, the 18th day of trial. He was cross-examined about his conclusions regarding the prosecution's key witness, Andrew Young, and the more than one million dollars that came into the Young's bank accounts between June 2007 and May 2008, when the Young family and the pregnant Hunter were in hiding from the media. During direct examination on Tuesday, Walsh often referred to the Young's financial affairs during this time as being "in the red"—despite the $1,070,000 allegedly funneled through their bank account by Edwards's loyal (and very wealthy) supporters, Rachel "Bunny" Mellon and Texas billionaire Fred Baron. Walsh concluded that at least half of that money went to help build the Youngs’ $1.6 million estate in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
Diane Dimond on team Edwards's shocking decision to rest their case.
John Edwards’s attorney appeared unprepared for the second day in a row as he struggled to get his witnesses to the stand—and said he may call Rielle Hunter tomorrow. By Diane Dimond
Lead defense attorney Abbe Lowell looked worried at the end of the 17th day of testimony at the John Edwards trial. After the jury had filed out he turned to his co-counsel at the defense table and whispered, “I don’t know what I’m going to say about the witnesses.”
Diane Dimond reports that Cate Edwards didn’t take the stand, but Rielle Hunter might.
Judge Catherine Eagles, who has chastised and scolded Lowell on several occasions during this trial, has made it a habit to ask for witness information at the end of each day so there are no surprises.
“Mr. Lowell, what about the witnesses for tomorrow?” Eagles asked right on cue.
“Well, we will—finish up with Mr. Walsh,” the attorney said, rising from his seat and referring to the retired FBI forensic analyst who had been on the stand for much of that day. “And there’s the possibility of calling Cate Edwards…The defendant may still testify…And...”—there was a slight pause as he looked to his left where the rest of the defense team sat—“we are contemplating the option of calling Miss Hunter.”
A murmur hummed through the courtroom. Had the defense just said they might call to the stand the woman who was John Edwards’s mistress and mother of his youngest child? Was Lowell tossing her name into the pot of possible witnesses because he had to say something to Judge Eagles, or was the defense seriously thinking about putting the unpredictable Hunter at the center of this high-stakes proceeding? Reporters and court watchers immediately began making plans to get to the courthouse early the next morning, just in case there was a long line of people wanting to catch a glimpse of the presidential candidate’s infamous “other woman.”
Possibly as early as Tuesday.
As John Edwards’s defense team began presenting its case on Monday, they announced the former presidential candidate’s 30-year-old daughter will testify this week on her father’s behalf—possibly as early as Tuesday. It is still undecided whether John Edwards will take the stand. While it’s unknown what Cate Edwards, a lawyer, will say that could help her father’s case, she could testify about her late mother, Elizabeth, and her father’s personal reasons for covering up his affair with Rielle Hunter. On Monday Edwards’s chief financial officer testified that Edwards had nothing to do with the financial reports filed to the Federal Elections Commission.
After days of watching their client get pummeled by the prosecution, John Edwards's team finally began their case--and were immediately smacked down by the judge. Diane Dimond reports.
U.S. District Court Judge Catherine Eagles was not amused. As John Edwards’s lawyer took to the podium to begin the defense's presentation in the campaign-finance corruption case, the judge stopped him cold.
Diane Dimond on the defense's case.
“You didn’t tell me about this witness on Friday,” she scolded attorney Abbe Lowell as he announced his first witness, one Scott Thomas of the Federal Elections Commission. Lowell, apologizing, began to explain the difficulties of his witnesses’ schedules, and that this decision was made over the weekend. But Eagles was angry—there would need to be a lengthy hearing about Thomas’s proposed testimony before she could decide if the jury would be allowed to hear him. And Eagles did not want the jury to have to wait.
“You’ve created this problem,” she said to Lowell. “And I don’t see why I need to accommodate this."
And she didn’t. Thomas—who was set to testify that the almost $1 million from political supporters Rachel “Bunny” Mellon and the late Fred Baron did not, in his opinion, constitute a campaign contribution—was not allowed to address the jury. The judge ultimately decided that since many statutes, “clearly define what a campaign contribution is,” it should be left to the jury to decide if the Mellon-Baron money was given with the intent to influence the Edwards’ campaign for president.
It was an embarrassing false start for the defense in such a high-profile, high-stakes case, and the first witness testifying for Edwards became, instead, the former chief financial officer of his 2008 presidential campaign. Lora Haggard testified that she never reported the Mellon-Baron money on any F.E.C. reporting forms because she never knew about it—not until she read about the indictment of her former boss in the newspaper in early June 2011. Outside the presence of the jury, she told the court she didn’t think that the funds would qualify as a contribution anyway.
Before passing the baton to John Edwards's attorneys, prosecutors landed a final blow: a 2008 interview in which the senator contradicted his defense team's strategy. By Diane Dimond
Now it is John Edwards's turn to tell his side of the story.
After 14 days of testimony from 22 witnesses, federal prosecutors conducting the campaign-finance corruption trial against the disgraced senator have passed the baton to the defense team.
Proceedings ended in dramatic fashion with the jury hearing from John Edwards himself—via a 20-minute taped interview he gave to ABC News in August 2008. If Edwards chooses not to take the stand during his criminal trial that tape will remain the only time the court hears him address the core issues in the case.
As the video began to play, the jurors leaned forward to watch it on a big screen in front of the jury box. ABC correspondent Bob Woodruff begins the segment by asking, “Did you have an affair with Miss Hunter?” Edwards, who appears tanned and relaxed in an open-collared blue oxford shirt, posed strategically in front of a stone fireplace inside his North Carolina estate, admits he was unfaithful to his wife, Elizabeth. He explains that it was a short affair, that it occurred in 2006, and that he had told his wife all about his “serious mistake” shortly after it ended.
Woodruff pressed about whether the affair was completely over. “How long did it last and when exactly did it end?”
“Here’s how I feel about his, Bob,” Edwards says with a slow Southern smile. “My family is entitled to every detail. They have been told every detail, Elizabeth knows absolutely everything. I think that’s where it stops in terms of the public... It’s been over for a long time.”
The trial of John Edwards begins today and you may be surprised who's coming to his defense. John Avlon reports in today's Campaign Chronicles.
From secret cellphone conversations to spiriting his mistress away on a jet, the allegations against John Edwards on Tuesday were relentless.
Reclusive philanthropist Bunny Mellon talks exclusively to NEWSWEEK about life, and secrets buried in her gardens.
In his hometown, residents see the ex-senator and former favorite son as disgraced and dishonored.