RALEIGH, N.C. -- A relieved John Edwards said after his mistrial on campaign corruption charges that he believed good things were still in store for him, though image makers and his friends agree that does not include politics.
The ex-presidential candidate who turned 59 this week will no longer have to face that future with federal charges hanging over his head after prosecutors on Wednesday dropped their campaign fraud case against him. After a six-week trial in North Carolina, jurors acquitted Edwards May 31 on one count of accepting illegal campaign contributions and deadlocked on five other felony counts. The judge declared a mistrial.
The U.S. Justice Department said in a court order that it will not seek to retry Edwards on the five unresolved counts, leaving some to say the charges shouldn't have been brought in the first place.
Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer, who oversees the agency's criminal division, said prosecutors knew the case, like all campaign finance cases, would be challenging. But he said it is "our duty to bring hard cases" when warranted.
"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 .... conducted this trial," he said, adding that he respected the jury's judgment and decided not to seek a retrial "in the interest of justice."
Edwards left his response to the dismissal up to his attorneys, Abbe Lowell, Allison Van Laningham and Alan W. Duncan. They said in a joint statement that they are pleased with the government's decision not to seek a second trial they believe would have had the same outcome.
"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," they said. "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."
Prosecutors accused Edwards of masterminding a scheme to use about $1 million in secret payments from two wealthy political donors to hide his pregnant mistress, Rielle Hunter, as he sought the White House in 2008. He would have faced up to 30 years in prison and $1.5 million in fines if convicted of all charges. Neither he nor Hunter took the stand.
At trial, the case against Edwards rested largely on the testimony of his former right-hand man, Andrew Young, who initially claimed paternity of his boss' baby and deposited most of the money at issue in the case into his family's personal accounts. But upon cross examination, Edwards' lawyers used inconsistencies from Young's past statements to undermine his credibility and used bank records to show the aide and his wife siphoned off much of the money to help build their $1.6 million dream home.
The trial exposed a sordid sex scandal that unfolded while Edwards' wife, Elizabeth, was dying of cancer, including the most intimate details of his affair with Hunter. But despite recounting the salacious details of his family tragedy, legal experts said the government failed to prove Edwards knowingly violated campaign finance law.
Several jurors said a clear majority within the group after deliberating nine days wanted to acquit Edwards on all charges.
"It was a weak case," Curtis Driggers, a juror from Ellerbe, told The Associated Press last week. "It was all on Andrew Young and he didn't carry much weight with me. If they don't have any more factual information than what they presented, I don't think any other jury would reach a different decision."
Bruce Reinhart, a criminal defense attorney who was a federal prosecutor for 19 years, said the prosecution's theory in this case was "aggressive."
"I think they were trying to plow new ground, but I can't say they were wrong to bring the case," said Reinhart, who spent eight years in the Justice Department's public integrity section, which prosecuted Edwards. "Sometimes you have to bring tough cases, and tough cases are hard to win."
From the start, though, Edwards' lawyers painted the prosecution as politically motivated and several campaign finance experts said that even if he had known about the money flowing to his mistress, he wasn't violating the law.
Melanie Sloan, the executive director for the campaign watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, said the ex-North Carolina senator never should have been charged. No federal candidate had ever before been tried over payments from a third party that flowed to the politician's mistress.
"It was a colossal waste of time and taxpayer money," Sloan said. "Now maybe the Justice Department can get back to prosecuting people who actually broke the law."
Edwards denied doing anything illegal in his statement after the mistrial but acknowledged he had done much that was wrong.
"There is no one else responsible for my sins," Edwards said, before expressing hope for his future. "I don't think God's through with me. I really believe he thinks there's still some good things I can do."
Likely not in politics, though, with image experts advising he should stay out of the public eye.
"I think John Edwards has no political future. Nada, zip," said Emory University political science professor Merle Black soon after the mistrial.
Experts say he should stay out of the public eye for a time and concentrate on his family, something he said in his statement that he would like to do. He has one grown daughter, 30-year-old Cate, a teenage daughter, Emma Claire, and his youngest son, Jack. His son, Wade, died in a car accident in 1996.
He also indicated he spends time with the daughter, now 4, whom he fathered with Hunter. He called Francis Quinn Hunter "precious."
After two years of public denials, Edwards announced he was the father of Hunter's baby in January 2010. The girl lives with her mother in Charlotte.
Cate Edwards reacted to Wednesday's decision through her Twitter account. She sat behind her father in the courtroom nearly every day of his lengthy trial.
"Big sigh of relief," Cate Edwards tweeted. "Ready to move forward with life."
Associated Press writer Pete Yost in Washington contributed to this report.
Love At First Sight?
"And when they left, my friend went over and asked Tony if that was John Edwards, and he said yes. And my friend turned to me and said, 'See, I told you it was John Edwards.' And then I came over to the table, and I said, 'I can't believe that was John Edwards; he's so hot. He's really got it going on. He's got something unusual about him, and I never would have recognized him.' And Tony said, 'Oh, my God, you should have come over and told him that. He would have loved to have heard that.'"
An Extraordinary Night
"We had an extraordinary night, and I did know that this was unlike anything either of us had ever experienced. And as we have all learned, that was accurate! [laughs] He in fact did say to me the first night, 'Falling in love with you could really [screw] up my plans for becoming President.' And of course I said, 'If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.'"
The Oddest Connection He Had Ever Felt
"Well, what Johnny later told me was, he went to dinner and could not stop thinking about me, like, 'Who was that woman, and why didn't I go over and talk to her?' ... So when he walked around the corner and saw me standing there, he lit up like a Christmas tree. And I thought his reaction when he saw me was just so cute. I mean, he looked like a little kid at Christmas. And I just uttered to him, 'You're so hot.' And he said, 'Why, thank you!' And he almost jumped into my arms. Literally. And um, that's how we met. On the corner of 61st and Park Avenue."
'I Had To Sleep With Him'
"I used to make a joke that I could have helped save the world, but I had to sleep with him. You know? It was kind of like that."
Falling In Love
"I fell in love with Johnny ... He called me the next day. We talked on the phone almost every night for four hours. We met on February 21. On February 25—on the phone, from Davenport, Iowa—I fell in love with him. Head over heels in love. I was a goner."
Here's ... Johnny!
"Isn't that funny? You know, when I first met him, the first week of our relationship, I said to him, 'For some reason I cannot call you John, it doesn't come out. Could I call you Johnny?' And he said, 'That's my name.' And I didn't know that, but that's his actual birth name."
Knight In Shining Armor?
"I had this thing in my head like a lot of women, where you want your man to stand up on a cliff and scream, 'I LOVE HER.' You know, the knight in shining armor. And that wasn't what was going on."
On Her Relationship Status
"I am not engaged."
Why She's Talking Now
"I feel comfortable talking now, because Johnny went public and made a statement admitting paternity. I didn't feel like I could ever speak until he did that. Because had I spoken, I would have emasculated him. And I could not emasculate him. Also, it is not my desire to teach my daughter that when Mommy's upset with Daddy, you take matters into your own hands and fix Daddy's mistakes. Which I view as one of the biggest problems in all female-and-male relationships."
Not A Gold Digger
"I mean, just for starters, I never 'hit on' Johnny. I'm not a predator, I'm not a gold digger, I'm not the stalker. I didn't have any power in that way in our relationship. He held all the power."
'The Wrath Of Elizabeth Is A Mighty Wrath'
"And I believe what happened in his marriage is, he could not go to his wife and say, 'We have an issue.' Because he would be pummeled. So he had a huge fear. Most of his mistakes or errors in judgment were because of his fear of the wrath of Elizabeth. He's allowed himself to be pushed into a lot of things that he wouldn't normally do because of Elizabeth's story line. And the spin that she wants to put out there. He was emasculated. And you know, the wrath of Elizabeth is a mighty wrath."
'I Was A Bit Promiscuous'
"I was never, as it's been reported, a drug addict. The word addiction means inability to stop. I stopped doing drugs in my twenties. As for being promiscuous, I would say that I was a bit promiscuous for about six months. But it was because I was partying, and there were a lot of very good-looking available 20-year-old men around that you'd be partying with, and there was a lot of, you know, hooking up going on."
A Toxic Relationship
"[Elizabeth] was in denial about a lot of facts. And I say she was in denial because, you know, their relationship has been dysfunctional and toxic and awful for many, many years. And she was aware of, um, problems and chose to ignore them."
'I Don't Really Believe He Was A Politician'
"Well, I don't really believe he was a politician. I believe his ego and ambition drove him to that field. I believe he's more aligned with being a humanitarian. That suits his true nature. Just like I wasn't a mistress. You know, I'm not a mistress, but I played the role? I believe he played the role of a politician. It's not who he is. Being a politician was a path of transformation for him, I believe. It's not really what he was put on the planet to do."
Not A 'Home Wrecker'
"And, well, first of all, infidelity doesn't happen in healthy marriages. The break in the marriage happens before the infidelity. And that break happened, you know, two and a half decades before I got there. So the home was wrecked already. I was not the Home Wrecker."
Naming Frances Quinn Hunter
"Her name is Frances Quinn Hunter, and I love the name Frances. Johnny wasn't over the moon about Frances. So I was coming up with names, and Quinn is a name that I loved, and that was the only name that he thought was cool. And so I named her Quinn because Daddy really liked it."
Was Andrew Young In Love With Edwards?
"Andrew [Young] was in love with Johnny...In love with him. Beyond. And I believe he loved Johnny more than he loved Cheri. So Johnny was the third person in their relationship. And I'm sure she hates Johnny, because Andrew took a lot of obvious actions that were for Johnny and not for Cheri. But Cheri went along with them. And they both have a way of spinning things. But a lot of their motivation is money."