One of the arguments brought forward in favor of the expected indictment of Donald Trump by a New York grand jury is that John Edwards was prosecuted under very similar circumstances.
That would be a valid point, except for one thing: Legal experts have widely viewed Edwards’ indictment and trial as an embarrassing overstatement by the US Department of Justice. There are good reasons to see Trump’s situation in the same light.
Both the Trump and Edwards cases involved alleged payments of secret money to women to prevent a candidate’s marital infidelity from becoming public knowledge.
Both Trump and Edwards were running for president at the time the alleged payments were made.
Edwards, a former United States Senator from North Carolina who had been the Democratic vice presidential candidate in 2004, was seeking his party’s presidential nomination in 2008.
During that time, he cheated on his cancer-stricken wife, Elizabeth, with aspiring film producer Rielle Hunter. In February 2008, Hunter gave birth to Edwards’ daughter.
According to Andrew Young, Edwards’ then-aide, two wealthy donors to Edwards paid Hunter $925,000 to buy her silence about the affair. One of those donors, Bunny Mellon, allegedly sent checks hidden in boxes of chocolates, and Young passed those payments on to Hunter.
A decade before his 2016 presidential run, Trump reportedly went on a date with porn star Stormy Daniels. To stop Daniels from publicizing the relationship, Trump’s then-lawyer Michael Cohen paid her $130,000. Trump later reimbursed Cohen.
Both Edwards’ and Trump’s criminal cases revolved around the idea that when a politician pays (or gets someone else to pay) money to keep an affair under wraps, it constitutes a campaign contribution. By that logic, both Edwards and Trump violated campaign finance disclosure laws and lied about it.
It’s a difficult legal argument to make, particularly as politicians in those situations may claim they made the payments to save their family’s public embarrassment or to keep their spouses from learning about alleged infidelities, not to benefit their campaigns. .
In Edwards’ case, he also insisted that donor payments to Hunter were made without his knowledge (a claim Young adamantly disputed).
When the Justice Department indicted Edwards, it had been three years since the story surfaced. Two key players had died and one of them (Bunny Mellon) was 100 years old.
Most everyone except the prosecution team considered it a fragile case.
A June 2011 Associated Press article pointed out that government lawyers “relied on an unverified legal theory to argue that money used to tangentially aid a candidate … should have been considered a campaign contribution.”
In 2011, Melanie Sloan, a progressive who was then executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics, wondered why federal officials were devoting valuable resources to the Edwards case.
“That’s a really broad definition of campaign contribution,” Sloan said. “It’s never been played so widely.”
The Edwards case ended in a mistrial, with the jury acquitting the former senator on one count (accepting illegal campaign contributions) and failing to reach a verdict on the other five. Two weeks later, the Justice Department dropped the case.
Conservative free speech advocate David Keating offered an assessment that could just as easily be applied to the Trump case:
“Prosecutors should stop trying to use vague laws to criminalize politics.”
Edwards played like a royal sleazeball and fully deserved the political pariah status that the cheating scandal toppled him.
The same goes for Trump’s personal pattern of behavior, compounded in this case by his insistence on referring to Daniels as “Horse Face.”
But that doesn’t make either case worthy of prosecution.
Given the way Trump constantly tramples the American legal system, it’s frustrating to think that the first criminal indictment he will face (and the first ever faced by a former US president) will hinge on the murky semantics of the finance law. countryside .
In January 2021, Trump tried to use his office to intimidate Georgia’s secretary of state to “get” him 11,780 votes, enough to tip that state’s presidential election in his favor. (An indictment on racketeering and conspiracy charges could be coming to Georgia soon.)
Trump has also faced credible allegations of tax and bank fraud.
In 2019, New York state shut down Trump’s foundation and ordered him to pay $2 million in damages to eight charities whose donations he used for his own personal benefit.
One of the great contradictions surrounding Trump is that he always describes himself as the victim of relentless persecution by government officials, but, in truth, he has made a career out of courting legal dangers.
It took a long time for Trump to face criminal consequences for his actions. It should have been for something more consequential than this.