- (Photo: Reuters / Rick Wilking)
The criminal trial against former Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards gets under Monday in Greensboro, N.C., with the former state senator making opening remarks in the case stemming from his affair with former campaign staffer Rielle Hunter.
Edwards was indicted last June in federal court on six counts of allegedly using donations he received during the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination to help him cover up the extramarital affair with Hunter. If found guilty, the former senator could face up to 30 years in prison, and more than a million dollars in fines.
It was alleged last June that the $1 million dollar contributions made by two major donors toward Edwards' campaign went into providing help for his mistress and the child they conceived. Edward reportedly claimed the funds were for private expenses unrelated to his presidential campaign.
An important part of the prosecution's case, however, is proving that Edwards was fully aware that these donations were meant to aid his candidacy, and that he knew he was breaking the law, CBS news reported. Another part of the argument involves reminding the jury that one of the most important elements in Edwards' 2008 presidential campaign was his portrayal as a family man.
Edwards' wife, Elizabeth Edwards, legally separated from the presidential hopeful in January of 2010 after the former senator confessed to being the father of Hunter's child. She passed away from breast cancer later that year.
"It's a clear legal debate over whether personal expenditures given for a candidate while he's campaigning – money for personal uses – is a campaign contribution," explained Lee Goodman, an attorney who specializes in federal and state election laws.
"This is an entirely novel case," added Melanie Sloan, the Executive Director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW). "The prosecution, if it were successful, it would muddy up campaign finance law immeasurably, making it very unclear what are campaign contributions and what are campaign expenditures."
Edwards, however, has strictly denied that the money he received directly aided his campaign, and has vowed to prove his innocence in court.
"What's important now is that I now get my day in court," Edwards stated at a hearing in Oct. 2011. "And what I know with complete and absolute certainty is I didn't violate campaign law."
The former senator dismissed a plea bargain, which could have meant spending only six months in prison. Edwards instead opted to fight in court to have all charges against him cleared.