Even a Creep Like John Edwards Gets the Benefit of the Law

His case is an object lesson in how dangerous ambitious federal prosecutors can be.

Jury selection began last week in U.S. vs. Johnny Reid Edwards. The former senator and presidential candidate (that is his real, given name) faces up to 30 years in the federal pen for allegedly violating federal campaign contribution limits, all in a scheme designed to conceal from the voting public the child he fathered with mistress Rielle Hunter.

How Edwards got into this mess is a testament to what a creep he is. But it's also an object lesson in how dangerous ambitious federal prosecutors can be.

At issue is over $900,000 in "living expenses" Edwards' allies gave to Ms. Hunter starting in 2007. The Justice Department calls the payments illegal campaign contributions aimed at preserving "a centerpiece of EDWARDS' candidacy[:] his public image as a devoted family man."

The upcoming trial looks like good, sordid fun for everyone not involved. Rielle is on the witness list, as is former aide Andrew Young, who just settled a lawsuit with Ms. Hunter over ownership of a sex tape she made with Edwards.

Rachel "Bunny" Mellon, who provided most of the hush money, won't take the stand, however. The widowed heiress, who mooned over Edwards as another JFK, is more than 100 years old and seems less an agent of influence than the victim of a manipulative Lothario who didn't even have the decency to attend her daughter's funeral in 2008.

According to Young, "the only thing Bunny had ever asked of him—in return for more than $6 million—was that he sit on one side of her at that funeral while Caroline Kennedy sat on the other. Caroline fulfilled her wish. John Edwards did not."

It's hard to feel sorry for that kind of guy. But other than TMZ-style entertainment value, what does the taxpayer get out of this frivolous prosecution? If the purpose of campaign finance restrictions is to prevent high-dollar donors from "buying" candidates, this indictment makes no sense. Any leverage Bunny Mellon had over Edwards would have come from her knowledge of paternity, not the alleged "contributions."

"The indictment at issue seeks to criminalize character, not conduct," the quixotically named Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington stresses in its amicus brief. If Edwards is convicted, "it will open the way for spurious prosecutions of people with far better moral character."

Two former Federal Election Commission chairs say they'll testify that the government's theory "is without precedent in federal election law, and that the Federal Election Commission would not support a finding that the conduct at issue constituted a civil violation, much less warranted a criminal prosecution."

What's behind this headline-grabbing prosecution? You be the judge. About a month after securing Edwards' indictment, the Republican U.S. attorney behind it announced he was running for a North Carolina congressional seat.

"With the law books filled with a great assortment of crimes," then-Attorney General Robert Jackson told an assembly of U.S. attorneys in 1940, "the most dangerous power of the prosecutor [is] that he will pick people that he thinks he should get, rather than pick cases that need to be prosecuted." The explosion of federal criminal law since 1940 has increased that danger radically.

In Robert Bolt's play, "A Man for All Seasons," when young William Roper tells Sir Thomas More that he'd "cut down every law in England" to pursue the Devil, More famously replies, "And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? ... I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake."

John Edwards isn't the devil; he's a garden-variety creep. But we should always give creeps the benefit of the law—for our own sake.

Gene Healy is a vice president at the Cato Institute, the author of "The Cult of the Presidency," and a columnist at the Washington Examiner, where this article originally appeared

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  • Spoonman.||

    It amazes me that anybody ever trusted that man. I was a kid and knew he was a creep.

  • TheZeitgeist||

    I agree. I remember that clown in 2004 and my sixth-sense tick was like "NOOOO!" at first sight of him and his toxic wife. And so many people talked about his charm etc. If only I could get ahold of his old donor lists, I'd have a ready-made demographic for all kinds of schemes and scams. What a bunch of suckers.

  • Raven Nation||

    I was always surprised that Christopher Hitchens was such a big Edwards fan. Whatever you thought about H's views, his BS-meter was usually pretty good.

  • Ex Nihilo||

    Andrew Young, who just settled a lawsuit with Ms. Hunter over ownership of a sex tape she made with Edwards.

    Wait, what??

  • SugarFree||

    I have a list of things that trigger my libertarian outrage. The Edwards prosecution is way down that list, between stop lights at busy intersections and the federal park ranger who takes an hour and 10 minutes for lunch.

    It's wrong in theory, hilarious in practice. Fucking over politicians is my favorite blood sport and it's even better when it's done with the corrupt system they created and support.

  • Pro Libertate||

    Fucking fraud, preying on people mourning their dead family members and willing to believe any psychic claptrap.

  • BakedPenguin||

    That's John Edward.

    Wait... actually, I guess it could be either.

  • Pro Libertate||

    I was talking about John Edwards.

  • PapayaSF||

    Yes, Edwrads supposedly used to "channel" the spirit of (or at least speak in the voice of) dead children during his ambulance-chasing court cases. Which, by the way, were based on emotion and junk science.

    And +1 to SugarFree. Watching a liberal democrat get caught in campaign-finance laws is just delightful.

  • ||

    Bingo. It's hard to dredge up outrage for a complete scumbag like Edwards. There are plenty other people who are getting fucked by prosecutors in this country who much more deserve attention.

    Fuck Edwards. As NutraSweet says, the fact that he being fucked over by a system he thrived in, like Spitzer, just makes it delicious.

  • Pro Libertate||

    Hoist by their own retard.

  • ||

    Look, ProL, the retarded don't rule the night. Nobody does.

  • Pro Libertate||

    Don't they run in packs?

  • ||

    Nope. And while they may not be as strong as apes, don't lock eyes with them. Don't do it. It puts them on edge. It might put them into berserker mode, and they'll come at you like a whirling dervish, all fists and elbows. You may be screaming "no no no", but all they hear is "who wants cake?"

    They all do. They all want cake.

  • sarcasmic||

    How long till we get to the zoo?

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bfrQ8ZutmLE

  • ||

    When your punk rock girlfriend stops reading the directions wrong.

  • T||

    I like you, Stewart. You're not like the other people here, in the trailer park.

  • db||

    Don't get me wrong; they're good people-- fine Americans!

  • jacob the barbarian||

    IDIOT, n.
    A member of a large and powerful tribe whose influence in human affairs has always been dominant and controlling. The Idiot's activity is not confined to any special field of thought or action, but "pervades and regulates the whole." He has the last word in everything; his decision is unappealable. He sets the fashions and opinion of taste, dictates the limitations of speech and circumscribes conduct with a dead-line.

  • ||

    They all do. They all want cake.

    yeah, but the cake is a lie

  • Paul.||

    Don't they run in packs?

    They run in Super Pacs!

  • Randian||

    Come on, guys - going outside of the law to try to establish a new criminal precedent? How does that not trigger your outrage meter?

  • ||

    I only have so much outrage to go around, and I'm not sparing any on Edwards.

  • Randian||

    My outrage is like the Sun: immeasurably hot and burning for 5-6 billion years or so.

  • ||

    I thought that was your bunghole. You should really lay off the hot sauce, dude.

  • Randian||

    You never minded before!

  • ||

    When it affects me, then I mind.

  • ||

    *sigh* I have to stand up for Edwards here. It's partisanship at it's finest if we're outraged at prosecutorial over-reach unless it's directed at somebody we don't like.

  • ||

    No you don't. As NutraSweet said, what's being done to Edwards is wrong. And if you think I'm going to waste my limited reserves of caring on Edwards as opposed to someone who deserves it, you're fucking delusional.

  • Randian||

    Me today. You tomorrow.

  • SugarFree||

    I am very worried about the potential consequences of bilking a senile old lady out of money to keep my fuck buddy and bastard child out of the news until I get elected president and then begin fucking the country over in earnest. I guess I just won't do that. Dang. There goes Saturday night.

  • ||

    Exactly Randian. And I guess I don't have the pre-set spending limit on outrage that everyone else is citing. I'm capable of being equally upset at this, AND at other things simultaneously.

  • ||

    Don't moralize at me, Jimbo. Edwards has to share my outrage with my outrage at the fact that I can't instantiate a static DataTable for cloning during parallelization with predefined columns and datatypes in C# the way I want to right now. Microsoft is getting the lion's share of my outrage.

  • ||

    The computer works according to our code, not according to our wishes.

  • SugarFree||

    I didn't say I wasn't outraged, just that my outrage is very small and slight, like a mouse fart in a hurricane.

  • Pro Libertate||

    It's like a Doppler Effect of outrage. It's still outrage, but it's more in the lower tones.

  • SugarFree||

    My outrage is redshifted to the angry color of Randian's burning asshole.

  • Pro Libertate||

    My overall outrage is well beyond the visible spectrum. Somewhere in the 10 pm band.

  • fried wylie||

    a few plank-lengths.

  • Pro Libertate||

    How many Planck lengths in the schadenfreude band?

  • ||

    For me, it's like apathetic, laid-back outrage mixed with schadenfreude.

    Sorry if that makes me a bad person.

  • Emmerson Biggins||

    grudging +1

  • Heroic Mulatto||

    An hour and 10 minutes is barely civilized. In a sane and just world, we'd take 2 hours for lunch, followed by a nice siesta and return to work at around 4-ish.

  • Romulus Augustus||

    Speaking of park rangers, I was stopped by one yesterday who saw my Ron Paul sticker. He says he got out of military recently and everyone wants to get the hell out of the clusterfuck in the Middle East. So, he says, most of the grunts back RP.

  • fried wylie||

    most of the grunts back RP

    "Thank god Im'ma keep those peons so busy with afghanistan, syria, iran, and north korean, they'll never have time to look at, much less complete, an absentee ballot."
    -Barack H. Obama

  • Paul.||

    Sitting in the Bush getting shot at? Fuck your late absentee ballot. - Al Gore.

  • fried wylie||

    The part that got me thinking was: park ranger? You could just, like, enjoy a sandwich while patrolling the wilderness.

  • fresno dan||

    And maybe after years (decades hopefully) of prison rape, Edwards can become of spokesperson for campaign reform - which is no campaign finance laws. Produced Washtington, Licoln, Rosevelt, and Truman.

  • Number 2||

    Good to see those campaign finance laws achieving such a useful purpose.

  • o3||

    u mean prosecution acheiving a quaint purpose considering the edwards court enshrined campaign finance non-regulation. >oh well, edwards musta been incentivized then.

  • o3||

    sorry, make that the roberts court

  • Drake||

    Want to see some crazy political prosecution? Look at the most corrupt state in the nation.

    Martha Coakley is the MA Attorney General who lost her Senate race but will probably run for Governor. Her face is on everything in MA workplaces.

    She has indited State Treasurer Tim Cahill (whose Independent run for Governor got Deval re-elected) for - putting his face on state stuff.

  • Drake||

    I would link to the Boston Herald, but...

  • Randian||

    Like this, you mean :)

  • Drake||

    Yes - but not to a paper that is nothing more than the mouthpiece of the MA Democrat Party.

  • Randian||

    Ah, that was your objection. I thought you were having squirrelz problemz.

  • Zeb||

    His name is Johnny?

  • Adamson||

    At least it isn't John-Boy.

  • sarcasmic||

    He can find my sympathy in the dictionary between shit and syphilis.

  • Every Thinking Person||

    sluts?

  • sarcasmic||

    Higher. Yeah. A little higher.

  • ||

    "About a month after securing Edwards' indictment, the Republican U.S. attorney behind it announced he was running for a North Carolina congressional seat."

    How stunningly unexpected. I just cant believe that is true. No way.

  • Paul.||

    "About a month after securing Edwards' indictment, the Republican U.S. attorney behind it announced he was running for a North Carolina congressional seat."

    In six months he'll get busted for cruising public bathrooms.

  • Sevo||

    "In six months he'll get busted for cruising public bathrooms."
    And picking up Johnny.

  • Mint Berry Crunch||

    Never was a fan of Johnny, but I do think that if one wants to promote awareness of economic inequality, "Two Americas" is a marginally less ridiculous slogan than "We are the 99 percent!"

    Shit, though, "up to 30 years in the federal pen"? Seems excessive. I'd be shocked if that happened.

  • ||

    Why are the comments so anemic today? and where are the morning links?

  • Paul.||

    They've gone vegan.

  • Heroic Mulatto||

    OT: Kindergartner handcuffed, taken to police station after allegedly throwing tantrum -- and furniture

    The family of a 6-year-old Georgia girl is upset at police and school officials after the girl was handcuffed and taken to a police station for allegedly throwing furniture, tearing items off the walls and knocking over a shelf, which injured the principal. ... Police defended their actions during the incident which occurred last Friday at Creekside Elementary School in Milledgeville, Ga. "Our policy states that any detainee transported to our station in a patrol vehicle is to be handcuffed in the back. There is no age discrimination on that rule," Milledgeville Police Chief Dray Swicord told WMAZ-TV.

    Typical police/bureaucrat nonsense. No individual judgement allowed, only strict adherence to "policy".

    [cont]

  • SugarFree||

    But what about poor John Edwards?

  • Heroic Mulatto||

    Well, on the other hand,

    The principal, Dianne Popp, said "a small shelf struck her in the leg while Johnson was throwing items at her," according to the police report, and that the girl "tried several times to get out of the office. Johnson was observed biting the door knob of the office and jumping on the paper shredder and attempted to break a glass frame above the shredder." ... "She has mood swings some days, which all of us have mood swings some days," she told WMAZ-TV. "I guess that was just one of her bad days."

    If by "mood swing" you mean the "berserker fury of the Ulfhethnar", then no, we all don't have "mood swings". Your daughter is batshit insane, lady.

  • Zeb||

    And it sounds like restraining her may have been appropriate.

  • Heroic Mulatto||

    And it sounds like restraining her may have been appropriate.

    Yep. That's how the police should have explained their actions, not "I was just following policy!"

  • Paul.||

    If by "mood swing" you mean the "berserker fury of the Ulfhethnar", then no, we all don't have "mood swings". Your daughter is batshit insane, lady.

    She is, and the family probably sucks air through a garden hose. And officer Stedenko just martyred them.

  • Paul.||

    The family of a 6-year-old Georgia girl is upset at police and school officials after the girl was handcuffed and taken to a police station for allegedly throwing furniture, tearing items off the walls and knocking over a shelf, which injured the principal

    Hmm.

  • PapayaSF||

    So, no accusations of racism yet...?

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Hush money counts as speech in Washington.

  • Sevo||

    Only if evil KKKorporashuns aren't involved.

  • T||

    Let's see, shall we? Bipartisan Campaign Finance Reform Act of 2001. Cosponsors, cosponsors. Yup, there it is:

    Sen Edwards, John [NC] - 3/8/2001

    Fuck him. Reap what you sow, bitch.

  • Paul.||

    The only I could ever forgive Edwards is if he came out, crying, saying that he no longer supports any form of campaign finance law and spends the rest of his life fighting to have the laws overturned.

  • db||

    Doesn't the fact that Edwards made it all the way to the official Democratic Party VP nomination put the lie to the claim that top level candidates are thoroughly vetted for scandal (and, dare I say, eligibility for office) before being given the official nod?

  • Mo||

    Hunter met Edwards in 2006, two years after he was the VP nominee.

  • db||

    Well. Never mind then. Derp.

  • Paul.||

    Democratic Party VP nomination put the lie to the claim that top level candidates are thoroughly vetted for scandal

    No, not at all.

    They're thoroughly vetted for scandal. Edwards passed. He was a fucking 10lb bag of scandal.

  • Paul.||

    A friend of mine texted me a pithy statement which I'll paraphrase here:

    The greatest revenge we can exact upon our politicians is forcing them to live in the world they created.

  • RPR2||

    he was a senator. more like me yesterday, Edwards today.

  • Paul.||

    You know, I appreciate the vegan-esque attempt at outrage at this. And on the logical basis, some outrage is warranted.

    But think of it this way...

    When the whole CFR thing was being ramped up with its picayune rules and regs, limits on speech, treating speech as money etc., libertarians were sounding the early warning alarm that these regs could and eventually would be used for political purposes.

    Peope like Edwards and all the other people supporting these laws told us to fuck off and die in Somalia.

    Fuck sympathy for Edwards. I hope he gets a year in a Federal penn.

    After that, he'll still be richer than I'll ever be.

  • fresno dan||

    My feelings exactly.
    And the whole criminalization of everything, like the whale watcher in California. Hopefully, after decades of as*raping in Prison, Edwards will waddle out and say that the society that imprisons least, imprisons best.

  • Drake||

    I was having both kinds of problems.

    Here is a sacrastic take on it.

  • ||

    As I said somewhere else:

    If you pay your lover off, the prosecutors get you.
    If you don't pay your lover off, Gloria Steinem gets you.

  • C. S. P. Schofield||

    I remember a Japanese political scandal of (I believe) the late 1980's. The politician was in trouble, not for paying off his mistress, but for paying her off TOO LITTLE. The Japanese people were outraged that he hadn't done right by her, in accordance with longstanding tradition.

    I was charmed.

  • ||

    I have Sugarfree levels of outrage. This fuckstick is a long way from being prosecuted. Even if so, Edwards isn't going to go to a real prison. I say more of this. Let them eat their own.

  • jacob||

    I have the same sympathy over the prosecution's malfeasance aimed at Edwards as I did when it was aimed at Tom Delay.

    Somewhere between none and my concern about the inability of standard coil spring mattresses to last forever.

    (if you shell out a shitload of money for a mattress it ought to last you a long damn time, right?)

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