The criminal trial of former Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards is officially underway with preliminary jury selection taking place this afternoon.
The disgraced former senator faces criminal charges on the grounds that he improperly spent nearly $1 million in campaign donations to hide his pregnant mistress during his failed presidential run in 2008. Edwards’ wife was suffering from cancer during the time.
Prosecutors will attempt to prove that Edwards knowingly accepted the money as campaign contributions and subsequently used it to put his mistress Rielle Hunter up in lavish accommodations as well as protect his public image. Edwards, however, denies he knew where the money was coming from or what it was being used for.
“I did not break the law, and I never, ever thought I was breaking the law,” he reaffirmed earlier this morning.
The Edwards trial is the first of its kind, as the Justice Department has never indicted anyone on these charges before. But according to The Atlantic’s Hampton Dillinger, who taught election law at Duke, two former chairs of the Federal Election Commission are willing to testify that FEC “would not support a finding that the conduct constituted a civil violation much less warranted a criminal prosecution.”
Meanwhile, CBS News reports that the prosecution will likely turn to former Edwards aide Andrew Young, who worked closely with Edwards during his 2008 presidential run. Young also initially claimed to be the father of Hunter’s son in order to protect Edwards.
The trial is expected to take a total of six weeks, though may be extended if the judge sees fit. Already, though, Edwards reportedly looks much thinner — perhaps the result of his preexisting heart condition — and remained relatively serious today, according to the Wall Street Journal.
We’ll be sure to keep an eye on the case as it moves forward. But even before any arguments have been heard, it’s clear that Edwards has already lost in the court of public opinion. The once popular senator will likely not recover from this blow, especially as more details are uncovered about his affair. Back in 2010, after news of his affair broke, Edwards was deemed the “most unpopular person we’ve polled anywhere at any time,” by pollsters at Public Policy Polling.
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