Edwards campaign finance trial commences

Opening arguments have begun in the trial of former presidential candidate John Edwards. Edwards is alleged to have accepted nearly $1 million in illegal campaign contributions in order to hide an affair between Edwards and Rielle Hunter, a videographer who worked for his campaign.

While admitting that he had made a very serious mistake in carrying on the affair, he maintained that he is innocent of criminal wrongdoing regarding the alleged violations of campaign finance law.

The specifics, as related by the prosecution, involve several bills paid by donors in order to help Edwards avoid public scrutiny amid his presidential campaign and wife Elizabeth Edwards’ struggle with cancer. Hunter had given birth to a daughter in 2008. Edwards admitted that he was the child’s father in 2010.

Allison Van Laningham, Edwards’ defense attorney, argued that the affair “may be a sin, but it is not a federal election crime,” according to the Los Angeles Times. Van Laningham continued, urging the court to “[f]ollow the money” and suggesting that campaign aide Andrew Young sought to exploit Edwards’ situation for his own financial benefit.

Meanwhile, prosecutors attempted to portray Edwards as a dangerously ambitious politician who deliberately broke the law in order to deceive the public and thereby preserve his presidential aspirations. Young is expected to be among the most important witnesses for the prosecution’s case.

The full report from the Los Angeles Times can be found here.

The Edwards scandal has played itself out on the national stage, but the basic questions appear similar to those found in the more common cases of public corruption. Among the most significant is that posed by Van Laningham in her opening argument: who benefits? Young authored a book on the scandal; Van Laningham observed that Young is currently seeking a movie deal as well. In essence, Young has monetized his involvement in the situation. It will be interesting to see to what extent this casts doubt on his credibility.

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