John Edwards, the former U.S. presidential candidate accused of accepting illegal campaign contributions to hide an extramarital affair, should face an October criminal trial, a federal prosecutor said.
Edwards, who has pleaded not guilty to charges he used donations to conceal the relationship and child he had with filmmaker Rielle Hunter while running for president in 2008, should be able to review evidence gathered by prosecutors in time for an October trial, Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert J. Higdon told a federal judge today in Greensboro, North Carolina.
“The defense will have a good sense and picture of the trial with the material we’re ready to release,” Higdon told Judge Norwood Carlton Tilley Jr. Prosecutors are “confident we can proceed with the October date,” he said. He said Edwards’s legal team is seeking a January 2012 trial.
A federal grand jury indicted Edwards this month on charges of accepting illegal campaign funds, conspiracy and making false statements. Edwards, who was in court today, is free on bond.
Edwards, a 58-year-old Democrat, was the target of a two-year probe into his handling of donations to his presidential campaign in 2007 and 2008. Prosecutors say he used the funds to pay Hunter’s rent, medical visits and prenatal expenses as part of an effort to keep his relationship with her secret.
Edwards publicly acknowledged the relationship with Hunter in August 2008. A former plaintiffs’ lawyer from North Carolina, he served in the Senate from 1999 to 2005. Massachusetts Senator John Kerry tapped him to be his running mate in the 2004 presidential election.
Edwards, who ran against now-President Barack Obama for the nod to be the Democratic presidential candidate, withdrew from the race in January 2008. He later revealed his affair with Hunter after a newspaper reported that he had fathered the woman’s daughter and claimed paternity of her child.
In a 2009 book, Edwards’s wife, Elizabeth Edwards, said her husband confessed the affair to her in the final days of 2006, after returning home from a tour announcing his second run for president. Elizabeth Edwards died in December after a six-year battle with breast cancer.
The Federal Election Act limits the amount individuals may contribute to candidates. The most an individual could contribute in the 2008 presidential primary was $2,300.
Edwards accepted about $725,000 from one person and more than $200,000 from another, according to the indictment.
A statement from Scott E. Thomas, a former chairman of the Federal Election Commission, identified the two donors as Rachel “Bunny” Mellon, a 100-year-old multimillionaire heiress, and Fred Baron, a Dallas-based trial lawyer who died in October 2008 at 61.
At today’s hearing, Higdon said prosecutors were reluctant to turn over all of the more-than-300,000 pages of evidence they had gathered in the Edwards case because some material involves witnesses who are “well-known individuals.”
Tilley told Higdon that Edwards’s defense team has a right to all evidence gathered against the former senator so they can properly interview witnesses against him.
James P. Cooney III, one of Edwards’s attorneys, said he worried the government’s offer to turn over only part of the evidence they’ve collected in the case amounted to a “pig in a poke.”
Putting Edwards’s trial on a fast track would force defense lawyers to “read 5,000 docs a day, seven days a week” to get through the material, Cooney said.
The criminal case is U.S. v. Edwards, 11-00161, U.S. District Court, Middle District of North Carolina (Greensboro).