Jurors: Evidence elusive in Edwards case
(CNN) — A couple of jurors in the John Edwards corruption case said Friday they suspected that the two-time Democratic presidential hopeful was guilty of breaking campaign finance laws, but the proof didn’t emerge at trial.
“He was just smart enough to hide it and we couldn’t find the evidence,” Cindy Aquaro said in an NBC “Today” show interview Friday.
Ladonna Foster said on “Today” that Edwards “definitely had some knowledge” of “where the money was going.”
The Justice Department is determining how to proceed with the case, which ended in an acquittal and mistrial Thursday. In the meantime, Edwards said, his years of service aren’t over, no matter what they decide.
“I don’t think God’s through with me. I really believe he still thinks there’s some good things I can do and whatever happens with this legal stuff going forward,” Edwards said Thursday. “What I’m hopeful about is all those kids that I’ve seen in the poorest parts of this country and some of the poorest places in the world, that I can help them.”
Prosecutors had accused Edwards of using nearly $1 million in illegal campaign contributions to keep his pregnant mistress under wraps as he ran for president in 2008. But after more than 50 hours of deliberations over nine days, jurors cleared him of one of six counts and deadlocked on the rest.
Edwards, a former U.S. senator from North Carolina, ran for president in 2004, when he ended up as the Democrats’ nominee for vice president, and again in 2008. His attorneys argued he was guilty of being a bad husband to his wife, Elizabeth, who died in 2010, but had committed no crime.
They also argued that former Edwards aide Andrew Young, the government’s star witness, used the contributions for his own gain and to pay for the medical expenses of the mistress, Rielle Hunter, to hide the affair from Edwards’ wife.
Neither Edwards, Hunter nor either of the two donors whose funds were in question testified during the trial. Fred Baron died in 2008, while Rachel “Bunny” Mellon — who gave Edwards the bulk of the money — is now 101.
Foster said on “Today” that she thinks Edwards was particularly knowledgeable about the Mellon money.
Other jurors interviewed on ABC’s “Good Morning America” on Friday said they weren’t convinced that the money was political
Jonathan Nunn said it wasn’t even a close call.
“In my eyes, it was all personal,” he said. “It was pretty weighed one way.”
Theresa Fuller said the “evidence just wasn’t there.”
Sheila Lockwood said she wanted to hear Edwards talk about the money that he received “on his behalf.” Edwards chose not to testify.
Asked what weakened the prosecution’s case, jury foreman David Recchion, interviewed on the “Today” show, pointed to Andrew Young and his credibility.
“I think, unfortunately, that was probably the key part of the miss for the prosecution because they did a tremendous job,” he said. “But when it came down to it, it was a matter of filling in the gaps.”
Jurors were asked whether the case should be retried.
Recchion said campaign finance laws need to be changed “before you go through this process. And kind of nailing down what really is and what really isn’t a campaign contribution.”
But he said the trial was money well spent for highlighting the importance of reforms.
“It’s elevating to the world the need for strong finance law, and it’s also elevating what candidates can and can’t do as it relates to a campaign.”
Edwards said he took responsibility for his own “sins,” including an affair that resulted in a “precious” daughter. But after emerging from the courthouse with his parents and another daughter, Cate, at his side, he said that while he never believed he committed a crime, “I did an awful, awful lot that was wrong, and there is no one else responsible for my sins.”
“None of the people who came to court and testified are responsible. Nobody working for the government is responsible,” he said. “I am responsible, and if I want to find the person who should be held accountable for my sins, honestly, I don’t have to go any further than the mirror.”
He thanked his family for supporting him, adding that “I’m grateful for all my children” — including Cate, who sat through the trial with him, 12-year-old Jack, 14-year-old Emma and the 4-year-old girl from his affair, whom he called “my precious Quinn, who I love more than any of you can ever imagine.”
Edwards had denied that he was the girl’s father for more than a year, saying the affair was over before Hunter became pregnant.
Jurors emerged Thursday afternoon to announce they had reached a decision on the one count, but none of the others. U.S. District Judge Catherine Eagles ordered them back into the jury room to continue deliberating, but declared a mistrial after they returned less than an hour later to announce the deadlock.
Edwards had been charged with four counts of accepting illegal campaign contributions, one count of falsifying documents and one of conspiring to receive and conceal the contributions. The charges could have carried a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison and a $1.5 million fine.
“This was a win for John Edwards, and there will be a lot of questions about why this case was brought,” CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin said after the announcement.
Prosecutors said Edwards “knowingly and willingly” took the money from Baron and Mellon to keep Hunter out of the public eye, then concealed the donations by filing false and misleading campaign disclosure reports.
The affair occurred as Edwards was gearing up for a second White House bid in 2008, and he knew his political ambitions depended on keeping his affair with Hunter a secret, Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Higdon told jurors in closing arguments.
“There is no question it would destroy the campaign of John Edwards,” Higdon said.
Prosecutors argued that Edwards knowingly violated campaign finance laws by accepting the large contributions from Mellon and Baron that went to support Hunter. Edwards “knew these rules well,” Higdon said, and should have known that the contributions violated campaign finance laws.
Edwards accepted $725,000 from Mellon and more than $200,000 from Baron, prosecutors said. The money was used to pay for Hunter’s living and medical expenses, travel and other costs to keep her out of sight while Edwards made his White House run, prosecutors say.
Defense attorneys argued the donations could not be considered campaign contributions.
Prosecutors said Edwards manipulated Young and others to help keep his affair out of public view. Young testified that he allowed Hunter to move in with him and his wife at Edwards’ request after newspapers began looking into a possible affair within the Edwards campaign.
Young initially claimed to be the father of Hunter’s baby girl and testified that Mellon was already funding Hunter’s living expenses when he called Baron to complain about the situation. Baron offered to help out, telling Young to write up Hunter’s expenses so Baron could reimburse them, the aide testified.
Neither Baron nor Mellon appeared to know that the other was reimbursing Young for the same expenses, raising questions about whether and how much Young may have profited from the situation. Young acknowledged during the trial that he had used some donations for his own personal benefit, including paying for the construction of a home.
Another former Edwards aide, speechwriter Wendy Button, testified that Edwards knew Baron was supporting Hunter and her child in 2009.
Defense lawyer Abbe Lowell urged jurors to focus on Young’s role in the case, saying he was a biased and unreliable witness with a financial and legal interest in the outcome.
“There is nothing he won’t lie about, nothing,” Lowell said.
Young, the author of a tell-all book about the Edwards scandal, testified under an agreement with the government in hopes that he would not be prosecuted. Prosecutors agreed that Young made several mistakes over the years, including keeping some of the money, failing to confront Edwards earlier about his behavior and falsely claiming paternity for Edwards’ child with Hunter.
But David Harbach of the U.S. Justice Department’s public integrity section told jurors in a rebuttal argument that Lowell was merely trying to distract jurors from focusing on the charges against Edwards.
“The defense is overplaying their hand,” Harbach said.