GREENSBORO, North Carolina Former U.S. senator and presidential candidate John Edwards learned on Thursday that he could stand trial as early as October on charges he violated campaign finance laws to cover up an affair.
But at a federal court hearing in Greensboro, North Carolina, his lawyers said they may need more time to wade through and assess thousands of pages of documents gathered by prosecutors in the case.
Edwards was indicted on June 3 for using nearly $1 million in what prosecutors describe as illegal campaign funds to help cover up an extramarital affair he had with campaign worker Rielle Hunter while running for president in 2008.
He has pleaded not guilty to six federal charges including conspiracy, taking illegal campaign contributions and making false statements.
Edwards' attorney James Cooney said the defense had received 10,000 documents from the government, but there were about 20,000 more pages still to come that would take time to review.
The documents include campaign e-mails sent during Edwards' failed bid for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination, as well as IRS records and material generated by a civil suit involving Hunter and his former aide, Andrew Young.
The 58-year-old Edwards, whose political career was preceded by years as a top trial attorney, attended the 30-minute hearing. Neither he nor his attorneys spoke with the media as they left the courthouse.
The indictment accuses Edwards of secretly getting the money from benefactors to help hide his affair with Hunter, a campaign worker, knowing that revelations of the liaison and her pregnancy would thwart his political aspirations.
Prosecutors said the gifts were an attempt to circumvent election laws. Edwards' attorneys dispute that any laws were broken, saying the gifts were used to keep the affair hidden from his now-deceased wife, Elizabeth.
Cooney told Judge N. Carlton Tilley that the government was using a novel interpretation of a campaign contribution. He said that complicates the case and extends the time attorneys need to prepare.
"This is a legal theory on which no one has ever been prosecuted in this country," Cooney said.
A defense will require deposing experts on campaign finance laws and additional legal research, he said.
Cooney said the case will turn on two points. First, prosecutors must show that the gifts were campaign contributions, and then that Edwards knowingly violated the law, he said.
Tilley said he understood the defense's difficulty in assessing the large volume of documents, but noted it was important to keep the case on a prompt schedule.
Though tentatively setting the trial for October, Tilley said both sides would be able to request the date be pushed back after the case is transferred to another judge as part of a regular rotation.
(Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Cynthia Johnston)