RALEIGH, N.C. – Former presidential hopeful John Edwards' attorneys are presenting his defense against charges that he masterminded a scheme to use nearly $1 million in secret payments to help hide his pregnant mistress as he ran for president.
He has pleaded not guilty to six criminal counts, including conspiracy to violate the Federal Election Campaign Act, accepting alleged contributions from two donors that exceeded the limits for his 2008 presidential campaign, and filing false and misleading campaign-finance statements. If convicted, he faces a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison and $1.5 million in fines.
Here is a look at the first weeks of the trial, and some highlights of witness testimony:
Q: WHAT EVIDENCE HAS THE PROSECUTION PRESENTED SO FAR?
A: Prosecutors showed two members of Edwards' inner circle, campaign finance chairman Fred Baron and fundraiser Andrew Young, engaged in a yearlong cover-up to hide the married presidential candidate's pregnant mistress from the media as he ran for the White House in 2008. Young, who is married, falsely claimed paternity of his boss' baby and received $725,000 in secret checks from an elderly heiress, using some of the money to care for the mistress, Rielle Hunter. A wealthy Texas lawyer, Baron provided Young and Hunter $319,500 in cash, luxury hotels, private jets and a $20,000-a-month rental mansion in Santa Barbara, Calif.
Q: TO WHAT EXTENT HAS THE PROSECUTION SUCCESSFULLY MADE THEIR CASE?
A: After years of Edwards saying he had no knowledge of the cover up, prosecutors introduced phone records, voicemails and other evidence showing he was in frequent contact with Baron, Young and Hunter, all while his mistress was in hiding. Former members of Edwards' campaign also testified that Baron spoke of "moving Hunter around" in the candidate's presence and that Edwards told his speechwriter he knew "all along" what Baron was up to. However, in 14 days of testimony no witness ever said Edwards knew he was violating campaign finance laws, a key element of criminal intent the government must prove to win a conviction.
Q: WHAT STRATEGY WILL THE DEFENSE USE?
A: Defense lawyers for Edwards have hammered the credibility of Young, the prosecution's main cooperating witness, showing he fabricated parts of his 2010 tell-all book about the affair and that he siphoned off much of the secret money to build his family's dream home. Edwards' lawyers are also arguing that even the Federal Election Commission concluded that the money from the two wealthy donors wasn't a campaign contribution and therefore didn't violate any laws. It's unknown whether Edwards, a former trial lawyer, will take the stand in his own defense.
Q: WHAT HAVE BEEN SOME OF THE MOST DRAMATIC MOMENTS SO FAR?
A: During emotional testimony that saw Edwards' 30-year-old daughter flee the courtroom in tears, former campaign advisor Christina Reynolds recounted an October 2007 fight at a Raleigh airport where an enraged Elizabeth Edwards confronted her husband about his affair, ripping open her shirt and baring her chest.
Former aide Andrew Young testified that when Edwards learned Hunter was pregnant, his first reaction was to express doubt he was the father and call his mistress a "crazy slut."
Young also described his climactic last meeting with Edwards in August 2008 on a secluded road near the former senator's Chapel Hill mansion. Young said Edwards was nervous and acting so paranoid the aide feared his boss had hired men to shoot him.
SOME OF THE KEY QUOTES IN TESTIMONY:
— "You can't hurt me, Andrew. You can't hurt me." — Edwards' last words to Young, as recounted by the former aide on the witness stand.
— "He said he could be to poverty what Al Gore was to the environment." — Young recounting Edwards' plan to solicit a $50 million donation from heiress Rachel "Bunny" Mellon to establish a foundation to combat poverty after his political career collapsed.
— "I've never asked anybody to pay a dime of money, never been told that any money's been paid. Nothing has been done at my request. So if the allegation is that somehow I participated in the payment of money — that is a lie." — Edwards in the 2008 interview on ABC's Nightline that was played for the jury at his criminal trial. Evidence presented by prosecutors showed numerous statements made by Edwards during the interview were lies, including his denial of fathering Hunter's baby.
— "You don't see me anymore!" — Elizabeth Edwards yelling at her cheating husband as she exposed her breasts, as recounted by Reynolds.
— "She thought maybe you should probably pay for your girlfriend yourself." — 101-year-old heiress Bunny Mellon's reaction upon learning some of the $725,000 she secretly provided to help Edwards went to hide his mistress, as recounted by Charlotte interior designer Bryan Huffman.
— "She thought it was a little low." — Huffman's reply after a prosecutor asked if Mellon was aware of a federal law that then limited individual political contributions to $2,300 per election cycle.