The disgraced Democrat giving Donald Trump hope

·2-min read
John Edwards - Emmanuel Dunand/AFP
John Edwards - Emmanuel Dunand/AFP

When Donald Trump’s legal team put together his defence against federal campaign finance charges, they may look to a rather unexpected place for inspiration: the case of disgraced Democratic senator John Edwards.

Mr Edwards, a lawyer and two-time presidential candidate, was indicted by a grand jury in 2011 on six felony charges of violating multiple federal campaign contribution laws to cover up an extramarital affair – but was ultimately acquitted.

Prosecutors alleged Mr Edwards solicited nearly $1 million (£800,000) from wealthy donors to hide his affair with a mistress who was carrying his child to prevent damage to his reputation during his 2008 presidential bid.

He served as senator for North Carolina and was running on the ticket with John Kerry. He eventually admitted to the affair.

Mr Edwards’ lawyers had contended at trial – as Mr Trump’s attorneys now argue – that the payments did not violate federal election law because they were aimed at shielding his family from pain and embarrassment rather than trying to conceal an extramarital affair from voters to further his political ambitions.

‘Not a good track record’

“It’s the most closely available precedent for this situation, and that’s not a good track record for someone looking to bring a similar case,” said Steven Friedland, an Elon University law professor who attended much of Mr Edwards’ six-week federal trial in Greensboro, North Carolina in 2012.

Mr Trump’s allies accuse Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg of overreach in his attempt to turn criminal state charges of business fraud stemming from a $130,000 “hush-money” payment to porn star Stormy Daniels just days before the 2016 general election into a violation of federal election law.

If charged with the latter, the former president could face up to five years in prison.

His legal team have been publicly drawing parallels to the Edwards case, which resulted in a high-profile loss for the Justice Department.

“He made this with personal funds to prevent something from coming out, false, that is embarrassing to himself, his family, his young son,” Joe Tacopina, Mr Trump’s lawyer, said earlier this month on ABC. “If the spending would exist irrespective of the campaign, it’s not a campaign law violation. End of story.”

Stanley Brand, an election law expert, told the Washington Examiner, “While the cases arise under different laws, state vs. federal, the theory of the Edwards case that 'hush money' constitutes a campaign contribution is legally flawed.”

Though Mr Edwards was not convicted of any crime, the revelation that he had engaged in an extramarital affair and fathered a child while his wife, Elizabeth, was dying of cancer, gravely damaged his public image and essentially ended his political career.