Ethics in Prosecution – Will John Edwards win his case on the Campaign Contribution Indictment?

Every choice has a consequence!  In this case, the question my be the choice the prosecution has made to indict John Edwards and the consequence of that indictment.  With two critical witnesses dead, one 100 years old and the fourth recently held in contempt of court, one might ask if the choice made by the prosecution is going to yield the consequence that they expect – a conviction.

As a ethics speaker, I’ve previously said – John Edwards is rolling the dice on this one!  A prior blog with more detailed information is here.

So…the ethics question seems to flow in two directions: (1) Should John Edwards get off with little to no consequence since the prosecution’s foundation is weak; and/or (2) Should the prosecution indict if there is a chance that they will not gain a conviction?  Which is the ethical action to take?

According to the Washington Post in an article published June 4 (the complete article is here) the following was stated:

Government attorneys are relying on an untested legal theory to argue that money used to tangentially help a candidate — in this case, by keeping Edwards’ pregnant mistress private during his 2008 presidential run — should have been considered a campaign contribution. Edwards’ attorneys counter with an argument that’s reprehensible but could raise reasonable doubts with a jury: He was only interested in hiding the affair from his cancer-stricken wife, who died in December.

The six-count indictment accuses Edwards of conspiracy, taking illegal campaign contributions and making false statements. On Friday, appearing both defiant and contrite, he insisted he did not break the law.

Some legal experts tend to agree.

At the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, which typically criticizes the Justice Department for not pursuing enough cases against public officials, executive director Melanie Sloan questioned why federal officials were spending resources on this one. She said it is unlikely prosecutors can prove that participants of the scheme intended for the money to aid Edwards’ candidacy, and Sloan said it was a stretch to argue that private plane flights provided to mistress Rielle Hunter should somehow be considered campaign contributions.

“This is a really broad definition of campaign contribution,” said Sloan, a former federal prosecutor. “It has never been this broadly interpreted.”

Now candidly stated, when the executive director of CREW (Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington) has her doubts about the outcome of the case, it raises a series of interesting questions.

  • Did John Edwards act ethically when he accepted a substantial amount of money to be used to keep quiet his relationship with Hunter?

Edwards says that the money was not intended as campaign contributions.  So, is it O.K. then to accept hush money if the action that created the need was nontheless wrong?  Yet, the likely outcome would have been that had his relationship come to light, it would have destroyed his campaign.  That argument is what, in part, prosecutors are using to connect the money with campaign contribution laws.  However, defining intent is difficult as one contributor is dead and the other 100 years old.  Kinda makes you wonder if he didn’t seek money from old folks knowing that if the issue ever arose, the folks who could testify would be incapacitated or dead.

  • Is it ethical to prosecute when the likely outcome will end in no prosecution?

There are many who have privately argued to me that the government is acting ethically – that ethics dictate an indictment – regardless of the likely outcome of a win.  Perhaps that is true, but others quickly state that it is a witch hunt that the government was hoping would force John Edward to succumb to and the failure of Edwards to play ball and face jail time has created an untenable position for the Government.

CREW’s article on the Edward’s prosecution states:

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.


Do you think the government is acting ethically and properly in indicting John Edwards, even knowing that their case is based on shaky legal footing?



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