John Edwards Trial Set to Begin

Opening arguments in illegal campaign contributions case to begin on Monday.

Sen. John Edwards
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Opening arguments for a criminal case against former presidential hopeful John Edwards are set to begin in Greensboro, N.C., on Monday. Edwards, a former Senator and Democratic VP nominee in 2004, faces six criminal counts including conspiracy and accepting illegal campaign contributions in relation to $925,000 allegedly spent in an effort to cover up an extra-marital affair with campaign videographer Rielle Hunter.

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"The charges against John Edwards in this case flow from his knowing and willful violation of the federal campaign finance laws during his campaign for the Democratic Party's nomination for president," prosecutors explained in court filings according to the Los Angeles Times. If convicted, Edwards faces up to 30 years in prison and $1.5 million in fines.

After initially denying accusations, Edwards has admitted to having an affair with Hunter and to being the father of her child, Frances Quinn Hunter. He carried out the affair during his 2008 presidential campaign while his wife, Elizabeth, was ill with breast cancer. She died in 2010.

Prosecutors are trying to prove that the money paid to Edwards by two wealthy benefactors should have been reported as campaign donations because the funds, which were allegedly used to pay Hunter and help her through her child's birth, were spent in an effort to avoid public disclosure of the situation and maintain the candidate's "family first" image. His defense team plans to argue that he did not know about the money.

Neither benefactor—Virginia banking heiress Rachel "Bunny" Mellon and Texas lawyer Fred Baron—will testify at the trial. According to Reuters, the 101-year-old Mellon is physically unable to attend the proceedings, and Baron passed away in 2008.

Andrew Young, an Edwards aide who originally claimed that he was the father of Hunter's baby but eventually reneged on the cover up, figures to play a large role in the proceedings. Young wrote a book, The Politican, about the affair, and the defense explained in trial briefs that they plan to attack his story. They will argue that the money from Mellon and Baron went more to Young's expenses than to Hunter's.

Brian Greene writes about politics for U.S. News & World Report. You can contact him at bgreene@usnews.com.