* Edwards charged with six counts in indictment
* Former senator says he "did not break the law"
(Adds not guilty plea, hearing details)
By James Vicini and Jeremy Pelofsky
WASHINGTON, June 3 John Edwards, a Democratic
hopeful for U.S. president in 2008, was indicted on Friday for
using nearly $1 million in illegal campaign funds to help cover
up an extramarital affair during his run for the White House.
In a fall from grace for a man once expected to go far in
American politics, Edwards, 57, was charged with six counts,
including conspiracy, taking illegal campaign contributions and
making false statements, according to the federal indictment.
"Mr. Edwards is alleged to have accepted more than $900,000
in an effort to conceal from the public facts that he believed
would harm his candidacy," Lanny Breuer, assistant attorney
general for the Justice Department's criminal division, said in
Flanked by five lawyers, Edwards pleaded not guilty during
a 30-minute hearing in U.S. District Court in Winston-Salem
hours after the indictment was filed. The judge set a tentative
trial date of July 11.
After the hearing, Edwards told reporters he was innocent.
"There's no question that I've done wrong and I take full
responsibility for having done wrong and I will regret for the
rest of my life the pain and the harm that I've caused to
others," he said with his eldest daughter Cate at his side.
"But I did not break the law and I never, ever thought that
I was breaking the law."
Magistrate Judge Patrick Auld released Edwards without
requiring him to post bail but ordered him to surrender his
passport and stay away from one of the people who made the bulk
of the contributions at issue, Rachel "Bunny" Mellon.
Edwards and Mellon met at her home in Virginia last week
but a lawyer for her told CNN the meeting was "entirely social
and personal. No discussion of (the) case."
If Edwards is convicted, each count carries a sentence of
up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
The indictment accused Edwards of secretly getting the
money to help cover up his affair with a campaign worker,
Rielle Hunter, knowing that revelations of the liaison and her
pregnancy would destroy his 2008 presidential bid.
The affair would undermine "Edwards' presentation of
himself as a family man and by forcing his campaign to divert
personnel and resources away from other campaign activities to
respond to criticism and media scrutiny regarding the affair
and pregnancy," the indictment said.
Edwards had big political ambitions, serving just one term
in the U.S. Senate before running for the White House in 2004.
While he failed to win enough support, he was picked to be the
vice-presidential running-mate of Democratic Senator John Kerry
but they failed to defeat Republican President George W. Bush.
Edwards used that as a jumping off point to run again for
the Democratic presidential nomination in 2008 but rumors
swirled about the affair and he again failed to win.
Federal prosecutions of such senior politicians are fairly
rare and legal experts were split over whether the money from
the donors could be construed as campaign contributions.
The Justice Department is also looking at former U.S.
Senator John Ensign, a Republican, over payments his parents
made to a former staffer and his wife after the lawmaker had an
affair with the man's wife.
Edwards, a trial lawyer and former U.S. senator from North
Carolina, at first denied on national television that he had
the affair or paid Hunter any money.
He finally admitted to the relationship, which ran from
February 2006 until August 2008, and to fathering the child,
which lead his wife Elizabeth to leave him. She died of cancer
While the indictment did not name Hunter or the staff and
donors who helped cover up the illegal payments and conspiracy,
it clearly referred to her and to Edwards' trusted aide, Andrew
Young, who initially claimed he was the baby's father.
Mellon wrote seven checks totaling $725,000 over seven
months to Young but the money was ultimately used to pay for
Hunter's medical visits, prenatal care, rent, furniture, car
and other living expenses, according to the indictment.
The donor falsely listed on the memo line of the checks
that the money was for furniture such as an antique table, the
indictment said. The federal limit on individual contributions
to candidates at the time was $2,300.
Another donor, trial lawyer Fred Baron, who was finance
chairman for Edwards' 2008 campaign, paid just over $183,000
for flights, hotel accommodation including $25,000 at the posh
Four Seasons in Santa Barbara, California, for Hunter and
Young, according to the charges.
According to the indictment, Baron in December 2007 gave
Young $1,000 in cash in an envelope and wrote in a note to him,
"Old Chinese saying: use cash, not credit cards!"
(Additional reporting by Ned Barnett in Winston-Salem, N.C.
and Colleen Jenkins in St. Petersburg, Fla.; Editing by John