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Prosecution rests in Edwards trial; defense to seek dismissal

Ted Richardson / Reuters

John Edwards exits the federal courthouse with one of his defense lawyers, Abbe Lowell, right, in Greensboro, N.C. on Friday.

Prosecutors rested their case against John Edwards on Thursday without calling his mistress, Rielle Hunter, to testify. Instead, some of the former Democratic presidential candidate’s closest friends and advisers gave dramatic, often unflattering testimony about his actions as his once-promising political career collapsed amid a sex scandal.

Edwards' defense team will ask U.S. District Court Judge Catherine C. Eagles on Friday to dismiss the case, arguing that prosecutors haven't proven their case. If the judge allows the trial to go forward, the defense will begin presenting its side Monday — and may call Hunter to testify. Edwards could also take the stand in his own defense.

It is unclear whether the defense intends to call the 48-year-old Hunter, who has not attended the proceedings, to testify.


Prosecutors rested their case against John Edwards on Thursday without calling his mistress, Rielle Hunter, to testify. NBC's Lisa Myers reports.

In a court order issued March 21, Judge Catherine Eagles wrote: "The defense contends, without contradiction by the Government, that Ms. Hunter's statements have been consistent over time and that she has not said nor is she likely to say that Mr. Edwards admitted or committed any element of the charged offenses. The defense is of the view that her testimony will support inferences in favor of Mr. Edwards and will in fact generally be consistent with the defense theory of the case." 

According to court documents, Hunter has been granted immunity from prosecution in connection with the case.

Elizabeth Edwards was in the spotlight on Wednesday at the corruption trial of former presidential candidate John Edwards. In wrenching testimony, a witness talked about her  final days, saying Edwards was consumed by her husband's betrayal. NBC's Lisa Myers reports.

 

Edwards has pleaded not guilty to six counts related to campaign finance violations. Prosecutors say he spearheaded a scheme to use nearly $1 million in secret payments from Fred Baron, his campaign finance manager, and 101-year-old heiress Rachel "Bunny" Mellon to hide his affair and keep his presidential campaign viable.

Edwards denies knowing about the secret payments, which his lawyers contend were gifts from friends rather than campaign contributions. He faces up to 30 years in prison if convicted.

While the past 14 days of testimony has focused on the money trail, the trial has also revisited Edwards' breathtaking fall. He had an affair with Rielle Hunter, a videographer on his campaign, as he renewed his marriage vows to his cancer-stricken wife, Elizabeth. He fathered a child with Hunter and then a decision was made for his right-hand man to claim paternity so Edwards could keep up his lofty political ambitions. And he lied repeatedly to his wife, his advisers and the public.

As prosecutors wrapped up their case, they showed the jury records detailing the money spent to hide Hunter — $319,500 in cash, luxury hotels, private jets and a $20,000-a-month rental mansion in Santa Barbara, Calif. The bills, flashed up on a large screen for the jury to see, were all paid by Baron, a wealthy Texas lawyer who served as Edwards' 2008 campaign finance chairman.

Baron began paying the expenses after tabloid reporters tracked down the pregnant mistress in Chapel Hill, where she had been secretly living in a house rented for her only a few miles from the Edwards family estate. Hunter was being closely watched over by Edwards' once-close confidant, Andrew Young, who falsely claimed paternity of boss' baby as the tabloid prepared to expose the affair.

As part of the cover-up, Baron paid for Hunter — and Young and his wife — to cross the country on private flights worth more than $80,000 and stay in waterfront hotel suites costing nearly $44,000, including bar tabs and frequent room service. Baron also leased a mansion in Santa Barbara for the mistress as she prepared to give birth, with total costs over the next eight months totaling $184,378.

Several witnesses testified that Edwards knew what the money was spent on; others were less definitive.

Earlier Thursday, a former unpaid economic adviser to Edwards testified that the candidate actively courted his Democratic rivals in an effort to be tapped as the eventual nominee’s running mate, even as his own campaign was collapsing.

The adviser, Leo Hindery, said he was an intermediary between Edwards and former Sen. Tom Daschle, who was then with Obama's campaign. On the night of Jan. 4, 2008, after Obama won the Iowa caucuses, Edwards asked Hindery to talk to Obama's camp.

"Edwards believed it was important that Mrs. Clinton not be the nominee,” Hindery testified. “He thought it would be a disaster."

Hindery said he reached out to the Obama campaign, via Daschle, and said, "Mr. Edwards for his support would like to be part of (the administration) and be attorney general." Daschle was skeptical and questioned "whether this is appropriate," he said.

Hindery also testified Edwards thought if he became attorney general that might eventually evolve into a nomination for the Supreme Court.

The jockeying didn't end there. When Obama didn't accept Edwards with open arms, he started talking to Clinton's campaign, Hindery said. 

Earlier in the campaign corruption trial, adviser Tim Toben said he was astonished when Edwards told him in June 2008 he still had a desire to become Obama's running mate or fill his Cabinet.

"I was alarmed," Toben testified. "I couldn't believe a man with a 4-month-old baby with another woman would seriously consider running for vice president."

The advisers' testimony is key because prosecutors are trying to show jurors that Edwards still had political aspirations after his campaign was suspended in January 2008.

Lisa Myers, Michael Austin and Stacey Klein of NBC News and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

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