Breaking News: Multiple news organizations are reporting that a federal grand jury has indicted former presidential candidate John Edwards… Watch this space – I will live-blog the indictment as soon as I can get a copy.
Update: Just got the press release and indictment from the Department of Justice. Highlights coming shortly…
Update II: CNN just reported Edwards will make his first court appearance in Winston-Salem, NC at 2:30 this afternoon.
Update III: Multiple news organizations have identified the two unnamed Edwards benefactors in the indictment as Bunny Mellon [Person C] and the late Fred Baron [Person D]
Update IV: Edwards’ attorney Greg Craig issued a statement, saying Edwards “will tell the court he is innocent of all charges, and will plead not guilty. He did not break the law and will mount a vigorous defense.”
Update V: According to my former colleague Kevin Bohn, John Edwards met with Bunny Mellon at her Virginia home last month.
“Family Comes First”: The indictment opens by setting up Edwards’ political image and strategy as a presidential candidate. “A centerpiece of EDWARDS’ candidacy was his public image as a devoted family man. The communication strategy developed by EDWARDS’ campaign stressed the importance of publicizing, among other things, “that [EDWARDS’] family comes first.” [p. 1] CNN’s Jeff Toobin described the document as a speaking indictment, meant to embarrass the subject and paint him in the most unflattering light possible.
Count One: Alleges Edwards and others conspired to accept money from two wealthy donors in excess of limits set by the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971 [$725,000 and $200,000 respectively], causing the FEC to file false and misleading campaign finance filings with the Federal Election Commission, with the intent of concealing Edwards’ affair with Rielle Hunter to protect his presidential chances. [p.5-7]
Quoting from the indictment: “EDWARDS knew that public revelation of the affair and pregnancy would destroy his candidacy by, among other things, undermining EDWARDS’ presentation of himself as a family man and by forcing his campaign to divert personnel and resources away from other campaign activities to respond to criticism and media scrutiny regarding the affair and pregnancy.” [p.6]
“A Way To Help Our Friend”: In May 2007, person A [based on the description earlier in the document, I assume it’s former Edwards aide Andrew Young] showed Edwards a note written to him by one of the two wealthy benefactors [identified in the indictment as Person C] the month before, which reads:
The timing of your telephone call was “witchy.” I was sitting alone in a grim mood – furious that the press attacked Senator Edwards on the price of a haircut. But it has inspired me – from now on, all haircuts, etc., that are necessary and important for his campaign – please send the bills to me… It is a way to help our friend without government restrictions.
This is in reference to an early Politico scoop revealing the Edwards campaign had spent $400 for the candidate’s haircut at a top Beverly Hills stylist, and the subsequent ridicule that followed. Obama campaign manager David Plouffe later admitted in his memoir that the Obama campaign had been the source of that piece of opposition research: “We did much less of this than many campaigns did, but there were times when we indulged – it was our researchers who found John Edwards’s infamous $400 haircut expenditures.” [David Plouffe, “The Audacity to Win” p. 73]
Follow the Checks: The indictment says Person C [Mellon] wrote a series of checks between June 2007 and January 2008 made out to a friend, after having already given the maximum amount to the Edwards campaign allowed under federal campaign finance laws. Several of the checks were labeled with misleading labels about furniture in the memo line to hide the fact the money was really going to Edwards. The check amounts ranged from $10,000 to $200,000. [p. 8-9] This friend would forward the checks to Person A [Young], whose wife would endorse the checks in her maiden name and deposit the funds into accounts they both controlled. According to the indictment, this money was used to provide for Person B’s [Rielle Hunter] “rent, furniture, car, living expenses, medical visits, and prenatal care.” [p. 9]
In Hiding: After the National Enquirer broke the story of the Edwards-Hunter affair, the indictment alleges Person D [Baron], having already donated the maximum amount allowed to the Edwards campaign, paid for travel and living expenses for Andrew Young, Young’s family, and Rielle Hunter, “all for the benefit of EDWARDS’ campaign.” The combined transactions were worth $183,083.75 and included chartered airfare to Aspen, Colorado, San Diego, California, and Santa Barbara California, along with hotel and house rental payments. [p. 11]
“Use Cash, Not Credit Cards!”: During the same period, Person D [Baron] was providing Person A [Young] money, including $1,000 in cash delivered in an envelope along with a note which read, “Old Chinese saying: Use cash, not credit cards!” The indictment also says Baron transferred $10,000 to a bank account controlled by Young. [p. 11]
Lies: The indictment cites several comments Edwards made during an interview with ABC News in which he admitted to the affair but denied paternity of Rielle Hunter’s child.
“A Huge Issue”: The indictment says that while working on a statement admitting paternity of Rielle Hunter’s baby, Edwards admitted to a former campaign staffer in June of 2009 that he knew Person D [Baron] had provided money and support to hide Person B [Hunter] from the media. Quoting the document: “EDWARDS further told the employee that this was a huge issue and that for “legal and practical reasons” it should not be mentioned in the statement they were preparing.” [p. 13]
Counts Two Through Five: Alleges that Edwards knowingly accepted contributions from Buny Mellon and Fred Baron exceeding the federal limit on individual donations. [p. 14-17]
Count Six: Alleges Edwards withheld information about hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations from Mellon and Baron from his presidential campaign committee, causing them to file inaccurate campaign finance documents with the FEC. [p. 18-19]