CREW Criticizes DOJ’s Indictment of Sen. John Edwards
Washington, D.C. – In response to the indictment of Sen. John Edwards (D-NC), Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) Executive Director Melanie Sloan issued the following statement:
“It is surprising that the Department of Justice (DOJ) is following the bungled prosecution of now-deceased Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK) with this remarkably weak case against former Sen. John Edwards. Like the Stevens case, the Edwards matter is likely to leave DOJ with egg on its face.
While CREW has long been critical of DOJ for failing to aggressively pursue cases against high-level government officials, the indictment of Sen. Edwards is a strange place to start. DOJ declined to prosecute former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX) or former Sen. Conrad Burns (R-MT) for selling their influence to lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Similarly, the department passed on prosecuting former Sen. John Ensign (R-NV), who conspired with his aide to violate the post-employment lobbying restrictions and failed to report a $96,000 severance payment made to his mistress to the Federal Election Commission (FEC). Prosecution of any of those cases would have rested on solid court precedent. Mr. Abramoff was found guilty of conspiracy to bribe public officials, and Rep. Bob Ney (R-OH) was found guilty of conspiracy to violate the lobbying laws.
Although DOJ has argued it did not have the evidence to bring any of those cases to trial, the department nevertheless has indicted Sen. Edwards on strikingly flimsy charges. The government’s entire case rests on finding that the payments made by Bunny Mellon and Fred Baron to Andrew Young to support Rielle Hunter were in fact campaign contributions. But no court has ever interpreted the definition of campaign contribution this broadly. Further, in his book, Mr. Young claimed that those payments were entirely proper gifts.
The prosecution’s theory rests on a 2000 FEC advisory opinion providing that payments made to candidates to compensate for their loss of employment income would be campaign contributions. In this case, however, there is no allegation that any payments were made directly to Sen. Edwards. Additionally, in a more relevant 2002 FEC enforcement case, all six commissioners unanimously agreed that a loan made to a congressman to help defray the costs of his divorce proceedings was not a campaign contribution because the two had a pre-existing personal relationship. So too here, Mr. Baron and Mr. Edwards were longstanding friends. Finally, the unavailability of key witnesses will make this case difficult to try: Mr. Baron died in 2008 and Ms. Mellon is 100 years old.
Sen. Edwards’ conduct was despicable and deserves society’s condemnation, but that alone does not provide solid grounds for a criminal case. DOJ’s scattershot approach to prosecuting public officials is incomprehensible and undermines the integrity of the criminal justice system.”
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) is a non-profit legal watchdog group dedicated to holding public officials accountable for their actions. For more information, please visit www.citizensforethics.org or contact David Merchant at 202.408.5565 or firstname.lastname@example.org