At trial, prosecutors say John Edwards was 'master manipulator'

Federal prosecutors on Monday painted John Edwards as a “master manipulator” who knowingly broke the law by allegedly accepting nearly $1 million to help hide an affair from the public during his 2008 bid for the White House.

But Edwards’ defense attorney rejected the charges, saying that while the former Democratic senator and presidential hopeful may have committed “sins,” he was not guilty of violating any of the six counts the government has brought against him.

Lawyers made their opening remarks largely along anticipated lines as Edwards’ trial began in Greensboro, N.C. Edwards is accused of violating campaign finance laws by allegedly using $925,000 from two wealthy campaign donors to help hide his mistress and their newborn baby from the media.

The government claims this money was an in-kind campaign contribution since it aided Edwards’s bid for the presidency and therefore violates the Election Act.

But Edwards and his lawyers say the money was given to him for personal reasons by friends concerned with his well-being, and had nothing to do with his campaign.

“John Edwards is a man who has committed many sins but no crimes,” said Edwards’ attorney in her opening remarks. “John Edwards is not afraid of the truth. He welcomes it.”

The trial was shaken Monday by Judge Catherine Eagles’ announcement that a key government witness, Andrew Young, had potentially broken federal law by recently contacting three of the other witnesses in the case.

The news seemed to weigh in the favor of Edwards’ defense, which on Monday depicted Young — a former aide to the senator who agreed to publicly claim to be the father of the baby Edwards conceived with his mistress — as money-hungry and spiteful.

Young is the government’s star witness in the case and has been granted immunity from prosecution. He wrote a book about his role in the Edwards presidential bid and in the cover-up of the former lawmaker’s illegitimate child and affair.

“Since he can no longer make money being for John Edwards, he wants to make money being against him,” Edwards’ lawyer told jurors Monday. “Follow the money and find the truth.”

Edwards faces six charges, including making false statements and taking illegal campaign contributions, and could face up to 30 years in prison along with a $250,000 fine if he is found guilty.

He arrived at the courthouse on Monday with his adult daughter, and watched as government lawyers laid out the framework for their case, that Edwards used the donations to try to hide his affair so it would not upend his 2008 presidential bid.

“This affair was a gamble with exceedingly high stakes,” said a federal prosecutor in opening remarks. “If the affair went public it would have destroyed any chance to become president and he knew it.

“Two of his most enthusiastic supporters happened to be wealthy and he knew that, too. He made a choice to accept hundreds of thousands of dollars. He made a choice to break the law.”

Edwards’ lawyers countered the government’s claims, saying that the donations were made in an attempt to keep Edwards from being publicly disgraced in the national media. His lawyers contend that most of the nearly $1 million went to keep Young and his wife quiet and not to aide Hunter.

The trial is expected to last about six weeks and campaign finance experts are intently watching it for notable shifts in precedent that may arise as a result.