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U.S. will not seek new trial of John Edwards
WINSTON-SALEM, North Carolina |
WINSTON-SALEM, North Carolina (Reuters) - The Justice Department dropped its criminal case against former U.S. Senator John Edwards on Wednesday, closing the book on a prosecution that had threatened the two-time presidential hopeful with prison and a further fall from grace.
A federal jury acquitted Edwards, 59, last month on one count of accepting illegal political contributions but deadlocked on five related campaign finance charges stemming from his failed 2008 White House bid.
Law enforcement sources said almost immediately that prosecutors were unlikely to continue to pursue the case. But the final decision was not announced until Wednesday, nearly two weeks after the lengthy trial's conclusion.
"We knew that this case - like all campaign finance cases - would be challenging," Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer said in a statement. "But it is our duty to bring hard cases when we believe that the facts and the law support charging a candidate for high office with a crime."
"The jurors could not reach a unanimous verdict on five of the six counts of the indictment, however, and we respect their judgment," Breuer said. "In the interest of justice, we have decided not to retry Mr. Edwards on those counts."
Edwards was indicted in June 2011 and accused of seeking more than $900,000 from two wealthy supporters to conceal his pregnant mistress from voters during his bid to win the Democratic presidential nomination four years ago.
The government said he orchestrated a cover-up scheme that funneled money from heiress Rachel "Bunny" Mellon and trial lawyer Fred Baron to mistress Rielle Hunter and campaign aide Andrew Young, who said he once falsely claimed paternity of Edwards' daughter with Hunter at the candidate's request.
Jurors, who deliberated across nine days in Greensboro, North Carolina, said in interviews afterward that there was not enough evidence against Edwards to warrant convictions.
Edwards' attorneys said on Wednesday they were grateful for the government's decision to dismiss the remaining charges. They reiterated their contention that Edwards did not violate campaign laws or believe that such laws could apply to money meant as a personal gift.
"We are confident that the outcome of any new trial would have been the same," defense attorneys Abbe Lowell, Allison Van Laningham and Alan Duncan said in a joint statement. "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."
'SIGH OF RELIEF'
Edwards' oldest daughter, Cate, who stood by him throughout the legal proceedings, signaled her feelings via her Twitter account: "Big sigh of relief. Ready to move forward with life."
Hunter, on the other hand, is about the embark on a media tour ahead of the release of her new book this month titled, "What Really Happened: John Edwards, Our Daughter, and Me."
The Justice Department's Breuer said the government put forward its best case against Edwards, once a rising political star who served one term as a senator from North Carolina before becoming the Democratic vice presidential nominee in 2004.
Steven Friedland, an Elon University law professor and former federal prosecutor, said it would be unfair for observers to second-guess the prosecution in hindsight or question whether the government over-reached with the case.
"This is a really a cost-benefit decision," he said of the dismissal. "This saga deserves to rest. The government did what it could and now there's no reason to pursue it further given what the jury has said."
(Reporting By Colleen Jenkins; Editing by Greg McCune and Cynthia Osterman)
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