Updated 4:28 p.m.
A team of three Justice Department public integrity prosecutors, working with federal prosecutors in North Carolina, make up the government's prosecution team against former U.S. Senator and president candidate John Edwards.
DOJ announced today that a grand jury indicted Edwards for his alleged role in a scheme to violate federal campaign finance laws. Edwards, 57, represented by Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom partner Gregory Craig and local counsel, was charged in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina with conspiracy, false statements and accepting illegal campaign contributions. A copy of the indictment is here.
“Mr. Edwards is alleged to have accepted more than $900,000 in an effort to conceal from the public facts that he believed would harm his candidacy,” Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer said in a statement. “As this indictment shows, we will not permit candidates for high office to abuse their special ability to access the coffers of their political supporters to circumvent our election laws.”
Prosecutors allege Edwards, during his presidential candidacy, conspired to accept and receive campaign contributions to “protect and advance his candidacy from disclosure of an ongoing extra-marital affair and the resulting pregnancy.” The government contends Edwards used the funds to pay for the living and medical expenses of Rielle Hunter, with whom Edwards had an affair.
Outside the Hiram H. Ward federal building in Winston-Salem this afternoon, Craig told reporters: “No one has ever been charged, either civilly or criminally, with the claims that have been brought against Sen Edwards today. This is an unprecedented prosecution. Craig said "no one would have known, or should have known, or could have been expected to know, that these payments would be treated or should be considered as campaign contributions. And there was no way Senator Edwards knew that fact either.”
One key figure in the indictment is the late Fred Baron, prominent Democrat and plaintiffs' personal injury lawyer in Dallas. Baron is "Person D" in the Edwards indictment, our sibling publication Tex Parte noted today. Baron was Edwards' finance chairman for his 2008 presidential run.
The Edwards prosecution puts DOJ’s Public Integrity Section back in the national spotlight. Lawyers in the unit came under fire in 2008 and 2009 for the botched prosecution of former Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska. Three former members of the section, former chief William Welch II, Brenda Morris and Edward Sullivan, remain under criminal investigation for their roles in the failed prosecution.
Public Integrity trial attorneys David Harbach II and Jeffrey Tsai are assigned to the Edwards prosecution, in addition to the section’s deputy chief, Justin Shur. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Robert Higdon Jr. and Brian Meyers in North Carolina are working with the Main Justice team. Higdon is the criminal division chief for the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of North Carolina, in Raleigh.
Shur successfully prosecuted former General Services Administration chief of staff David Safavian, a Jack Abramoff friend whose conviction on ethics charges of was recently upheld on appeal. Shur was on the prosecution team in the case against lobbyist Paul Magliocchetti in federal district court in Alexandria. Magliocchetti was sentenced in January to 27 months in prison for making hundreds of thousands of dollars in illegal campaign finance campaign contributions.
Shur has been a member of the D.C. bar since 2007 and a member of the New York bar since 2001. He attended Emory University School of Law.
Harbach received an undergraduate degree from Duke University before attending Harvard Law School, from which he graduated in June 1998. He became a member of the Texas bar later that year. Harbach was recently a lead prosecutor in the case against a former member of the Virginia House of Delegates, Phillip Hamilton, who was convicted in Richmond last month on charges of bribery and extortion.
Tsai, who graduated in 1997 from the University of Texas, at Austin, attended Georgetown Law Center. Tsai was admitted to the California bar in July 2003. He is a former counsel in the Criminal Division front office and for several years served as an assistant U.S. attorney in Miami. In Florida, Tsai worked on a range of matters, including a multimillion-dollar fraud scheme in 2008 and a murder case in 2009.
Two Washington lawyers offered statements today in support of Edwards: Scott Thomas, a former chairman of the Federal Election Commission who is of counsel to Dickstein Shapiro, and Patricia Fiori, a longtime elections law and partner at Utrecht & Phillips whose former clients include Edwards’ presidential campaigns.
“I believe that the theory on which the government intends to base its prosecution is without precedent in federal election law, and that the Federal Election Commission would not support a finding that the conduct at issue constituted a civil violation much less warranted a criminal prosecution,” Thomas, acting as a potential expert witness, said in a statement released by Edwards’ camp.
Fiori, speaking as the Edwards campaign’s counsel, said in a statement: “Had I been asked for my legal opinion at the time the payments were made [for Rielle Hunter], I would have advised that based upon all of the FEC interpretations, including the Advisory Opinion issued to Philip Harvey, the payments for Ms. Hunter’s expenses were not campaign contributions.” Harvey, owner of a sex-product company, received an FEC opinion in 2000 regarding personal gifts to federal candidates.
After his initial court appearance this afternoon in Winston-Salem, Edwards delivered this statement to reporters: “There’s no question that I’ve done wrong. I take full responsibility for having done wrong. I will regret for the rest of my life the pain and the harm that I’ve caused to others. But I did not break the law. And I never, ever thought that I was breaking the law.”
By Michael A. Scarcella and David H. Ingram