By MICHAEL BIESECKER, Associated Press
GREENSBORO, N.C. (AP) — Attorneys for John Edwards on Tuesday indicated that their defense in his criminal trial for alleged campaign finance violations is winding down, but they did not say whether the former presidential candidate or his one-time mistress will take the witness stand.
Defense lawyer Abbe Lowell said his team will make a final decision about their remaining witnesses late Tuesday, but it was not immediately clear if that information will be made public before Edwards' trial resumes Wednesday morning.
After Tuesday's proceedings wrapped up with testimony focusing on financial records, Lowell said the defense could close out its case by calling Edwards, his oldest daughter Cate and Rielle Hunter, the woman with whom he had an extramarital affair while running for president in 2008.
Defense attorneys could also recall Edwards' ex-aide Andrew Young, the first witness for the prosecution when the trial began more than three weeks ago.
Lowell told U.S. District Court Judge Catherine C. Eagles that the defense may call several, all or none of the remaining potential witnesses before resting its case.
"We may also very well be done tomorrow," Lowell said.
Edwards' attorneys have called a series of witnesses this week aimed at shifting the jury's focus from the lurid details of a political sex scandal to the legal question of whether the former North Carolina senator's actions violated federal campaign finance laws.
Edwards is charged with masterminding a plan to use about $1 million from two wealthy donors to hide his pregnant mistress as he ran for the White House in 2008. He has pleaded not guilty to six criminal counts including conspiracy to violate the Federal Election Campaign Act, accepting contributions that exceeded federal limits, and filing false campaign-finance statements. He faces up to 30 years in prison if convicted.
To win a conviction, the government must convince jurors that Edwards' not only knew about the scheme to hide his mistress, but that he knew doing so violated the law and that he did so anyway.
Before winning a U.S. Senate seat in 1998, Edwards made a fortune as a personal injury lawyer renowned for his ability to sway jurors to award his clients huge settlements. Edwards' gifts of persuasion were so renowned within North Carolina that other lawyers would fill the courtroom to hear him deliver a closing argument.
Raleigh defense attorney Kieran J. Shanahan, who knows Edwards from his legal career, has attended nearly every day of his trial. He said he would be shocked if Edwards didn't take the stand in his own defense.
"The jury wants to hear from him and I believe Edwards wants to testify," said Shanahan, a former federal prosecutor. "He built his life on making big bets on his ability to convince jurors of his case."
But taking the stand is not without risk for Edwards. He would expose himself to what would likely be a withering cross-examination from prosecutors about his past lies and personal failings.
Prosecutors rested their case Thursday by playing video of a 2008 national television interview in which Edwards repeatedly lied about his extramarital affair and denied fathering Hunter's baby. Earlier testimony from a parade of former aides and advisers also painted an unflattering portrait of Edwards.
The defense, in turn, has focused on undermining the credibility of the government's key witnesses and showing that Edwards and his campaign never touched the money at issue.
Records introduced Tuesday showed Edwards' 2008 campaign finance chairman, the late Fred Baron, used personal funds to pay Hunter a $9,000 monthly cash allowance, on top of providing flights on private jets, stays at luxury resorts and a $20,000-a-month California rental mansion.
A wealthy Texas trial lawyer, Baron was one of two political supporters who combined gave about $1 million to help hide Hunter. Evidence shows regular deposits from Baron's account into Hunter's checking account, the sum totaling $74,000.
The deposits began in June 2008 — several months after Edwards ended his White House run — and continued until December 2008, two months after Baron died of cancer.