Former Sen. John Edwards could face up to 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine if an investigation into his campaign finances yields an indictment, a guilty verdict and the maximum penalty -- an outcome that some observers say couldn't happen to a more deserving guy.
"I think the biggest problem we're hearing from people when they talk about this case, aside from the criminal possibilities, is how angry a lot of people still are at John Edwards, not for his infidelity but for claiming the mantle of his wife's illness as part of the reason for his running for president, and then while he was running for president engaging in this kind of conduct," said Washington Examiner political editor Chris Stirewalt.
"I think there's going to be very little sympathy for the former senator as this goes forward. I mean, people are mad," Stirewalt said.
Feds are combing through Edwards' 2008 presidential campaign checkbook to see if there's more to the story of his payments to his former mistress, Reille Hunter, who was hired by the campaign to produce a Web-based film about the former North Carolina senator and 2004 Democratic vice presidential candidate.
Edwards confirmed last year that his political action committee paid more than $100,000 to Hunter, who gave birth in February 2008 to a daughter widely rumored to be the ex-senator's. Edwards admitted last summer that he and Hunter had an affair while she was working on a video of him for his presidential campaign and while his wife was battling breast cancer. He insisted he is not the father of 1-year-old Frances Hunter, who does not have a father listed on her California birth certificate.
In a carefully worded statement issued Sunday, Edwards said none of the money Hunter received was wrongly paid.
"I am confident that no funds from my campaign were used improperly. However, I know that it is the role of government to ensure that this is true. We have made available to the United States both the people and the information necessary to help them get the issue resolved efficiently and in a timely matter," he said.
While Edwards focused his comment on campaign funds, he also had a range of other fundraising organizations -- including two nonprofits and a poverty center at his alma mater, the University of North Carolina -- that have come under scrutiny.
Chief among them was the political action committee that paid Hunter's company for several months in 2006 for the videos that documented Edwards' travels and advocacy ahead of his 2008 presidential campaign. The committee also paid her firm an additional $14,086.50 on April 1, 2007.
Attorney Janet Pennisi said that if Edwards did do anything wrong, it would not be difficult to build a case, especially since some of the money was supposedly expensed as furniture purchases.
"Any forensic accountant is going to look for something that is a pretext, something that shows we all knew that the campaign was running low on money at that point. The political campaign gave the PAC money to fund its coffer to then make a furniture payment to Ms. Hunter. Why? Why would that be done? What was the purpose for that, and it wasn't for furniture, so why would the entry be made furniture?" Pennisi asked.
Hunter created several films of Edwards, including one taken while he was on a charitable trip to Africa. Defense attorney David Wohl said as a result of a product being produced, Edwards may have legally moved around the cash, particularly since Hunter was paid before Edwards declared his candidacy officially.
Wohl said the payment of $100,000 from a political action committee is "on the upper end of the pay scale," and going to Africa for four months is a "long time to spend ... shooting a professional video."
"But that does not offend me at all. That seems to be reasonable under the circumstances," Wohl said. "Under those circumstances, that is legal."
Wohl added that it may not be crucial for Edwards to prove he was not involved, as the money was moved around by people within his campaign, including his late money man Fred Baron, who said at the time news of the affair broke that Edwards didn't know anything about the payments.
"It is his campaign. I think it is a shell game, but it is a legal shell game," he said. It's a close call, but I think he will be scot-free."
Meanwhile, Elizabeth Edwards is releasing a book next week that says when she learned about the affair in 2006, she threw up and then begged her husband unsuccessfully not to run for president.
FOX News senior legal analyst Andrew Napolitano said Edwards' decision to go against his wife both within their marriage and as a career decision suggests Edwards "has a very high view of himself, which should be irrelevant to whether or not he's prosecuted.
"But I think he thought he wouldn't get caught or that his charm and electability would overcome this. As it turned out, he rose like a rocket and fell like a stick. His public reputation is less than zero. I can't imagine him being involved in public life again," Napolitano said.
Stirewalt said it's unlikely Edwards can make a comeback.
"It would have to be a real freak show. I cannot imagine it right now," he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.