Former presidential candidate John Edwards can’t present evidence at his trial on the Federal Election Commission’s ruling that money for his mistress didn’t constitute campaign donations, a judge said.
Edwards’s former campaign treasurer, Lora Haggard, told the federal judge presiding over the trial today outside the presence of the jury that the commission concluded in July that the funds from two wealthy donors “were not reportable contributions.”
U.S. District Judge Catherine Eagles in Greensboro, North Carolina, ruled that the issue of the FEC’s audit of Edwards’s 2008 campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination was too confusing for the jury and that it wasn’t clear what evidence had been put before the commission. Prosecutors objected to the scope of Haggard’s testimony.
“I’m not sure what they knew, did or heard,” Eagles said.
Edwards, 58, a former U.S. senator representing North Carolina, is accused of illegally using almost $1 million in campaign contributions to conceal his affair with Rielle Hunter, an unemployed filmmaker with whom he fathered a child. He has maintained his innocence, asserting that the funds in question came from his friendships with Rachel “Bunny” Mellon, a 101-year-old multimillionaire heiress, and Fred Baron, a now-deceased trial attorney.
Edwards’s defense team started putting on its case today after about three weeks of testimony by prosecution witnesses.
Eagles also excluded testimony from former Federal Election Commissioner Scott E. Thomas on the definition of a contribution. Thomas, a 20-year veteran of the commission and past chairman, was expected to testify that the payment of medical and other expenses of a candidate’s mistress isn’t a campaign-related expense, according to court documents.
“The jury makes decisions every day without expert opinion about purpose, intent or motive,” Eagles said. “His testimony seems like a substitute for a closing argument.”
Haggard told jurors she didn’t believe the money from Mellon and Baron were contributions or expenditures that needed to be detailed on financial reports to the FEC.
“They were not used to urge the public to vote for John Edwards to become president,” she said.
Abbe Lowell, an attorney for Edwards, told Eagles at the end of trial today that Edwards may testify in the case. Edwards’s oldest daughter Cate is scheduled to take the witness stand later this week. Lowell said the defense plans to wrap its case on Wednesday or Thursday.
The case is U.S. v. Edwards, 11-00161, U.S. District Court, Middle District of North Carolina (Greensboro).