DOJ drops John Edwards case

The Department of Justice announced on Wednesday that it won’t pursue the remaining five felony charges against former presidential candidate John Edwards.

“Last month, the government put forward its best case against Mr. Edwards, and I am proud of the skilled and professional way in which our prosecutors from the Criminal Division’s Public Integrity Section and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of North Carolina conducted this trial,” Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer said in a statement.

“The jurors could not reach a unanimous verdict on five of the six counts of the indictment, however, and we respect their judgment. In the interest of justice, we have decided not to retry Mr. Edwards on those counts.”

Edwards was found not guilty on one felony charge of accepting illegal campaign contributions from heiress Rachel “Bunny” Mellon, but the jury was deadlocked on the other five felony charges, prompting the judge to declare a mistrial on those counts.

{mosads}At the time, most legal experts thought it was unlikely that the DOJ would pursue the balance of the charges due to the complexity of the case, the cost to litigate and the small amount of jail time that would come with a conviction.

“We knew that this case — like all campaign finance cases — would be challenging,” Breuer said in the statement. “But it is our duty to bring hard cases when we believe that the facts and the law support charging a candidate for high office with a crime.”

Edwards faced six felony charges, including conspiracy, making false statements and four counts of receiving illegal campaign contributions during his failed bid for the presidency in 2008. He pleaded not guilty to all the charges, which stemmed from a payment of $925,000 made by two campaign donors to allegedly cover up an affair he had with Hunter, who later gave birth to his daughter Frances Quinn Hunter.

“Big sigh of relief,” Cate Edwards tweeted. “Ready to move forward with life.”

Edwards’ attorneys, Abbe Lowell, Allison Van Laningham and Alan W. Duncan, released a joint statement saying they were glad the Edwards family could move on after “living under this cloud for over three years.”

“While John has repeatedly admitted to his sins, he has also consistently asserted, as we demonstrated at the trial, that he did not violate any campaign law nor even imagined that any campaign laws could apply,” the statement said. “We are confident that the outcome of any new trial would have been the same. We are very glad that, after living under this cloud for over three years, John and his family can have their lives back and enjoy the peace they deserve.”

It’s the latest black eye for the Justice Department’s public integrity division, which botched the criminal case against the late former Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska).

Earlier this year, a 525-page report found the government kept numerous pieces of evidence from Stevens’s attorney that could have proven his innocence or caused the case against him to be dismissed.

After a prolonged investigation by the FBI, Stevens was indicted in 2008 on charges that he failed to disclose gifts from oil executives. He was convicted about one week before voters went to the polls and lost his reelection bid that year.

Stevens died in a plane crash in 2010.

In his first months as attorney general, Eric Holder moved to dismiss the indictment against Stevens and set aside the guilty verdict after reviewing evidence that suggested the DOJ’s witnesses might have perjured themselves and that the government withheld evidence from the defense team.

Holder was not involved in the Edwards case either, recusing himself because he was involved in vetting the former North Carolina senator ahead of his 2004 vice presidential candidacy.

— This story was updated at 5:33 p.m.

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