John Edwards' defense team argued that the prosecution hasn't shown that Edwards knew about money going to his mistress, Rielle Hunter. NBC's Brian Williams reports.
Updated at 6:59 p.m. ET: The judge in John Edwards' federal campaign finance trial rejected a defense motion to dismiss the charges against him Friday, a day after the prosecution rested its case.
Edwards' defense team argued that prosecutors hadn't proven their case — an assessment many legal analysts agreed with, noting that many of the prosecution witnesses had actually bolstered Edwards' contention that nothing he did in accepting donations from prominent backers to support his mistress was actually a crime.
But dismissal motions are a long shot, and U.S. District Court Judge Catherine Eagles said "we will let the jury decide" in a ruling that NBC News and msnbc.com legal analyst Hampton Dellinger said brought home the "risk of taking this case to trial for John Edwards."
Edwards' lawyers are scheduled to begin presenting their case Monday.
Edwards — the 2004 Democratic vice presidential nominee and a former senator from North Carolina — is charged in U.S. District Court in Greensboro with six felony counts of accepting about $1 million in illegal and unreported campaign donations from two wealthy supporters.
The prosecution chose not to call Rielle Hunter, the campaign videographer with whom Edwards fathered a daughter, and Edwards' lawyers haven't said whether they intend to question her on the stand. They also haven't said whether Edwards himself might testify.
The first phase of the controversial case came to a close after two weeks without testimony from a key witness — Hunter, the mother of Edwards' daughter Quinn.
Prosecutors instead introduced a mountain of paper evidence to establish the two points they must prove to convict Edwards — that he knew the money from billionaire heiress Rachel "Bunny" Mellon and the late Fred Baron was being diverted to the "Hunter problem" and that he knew doing so was a violation of the law.
Edwards denies he knew what his former top aide and chief accuser, Andrew Young, was up to, and his lawyers argue that every step of the way, the campaign was careful to keep the money separate from political funds.
Prosecutors called a parade of witnesses they hoped would impeach Edwards' integrity by depicting him as a politician blinded by ambition and hubris.
Even as rumors of the affair swirled in tabloid media, Edwards remained in the 2008 presidential race and was lobbying behind the scenes for a position in the administration of the eventual Democratic nominee, Barack Obama, said Leo Hindery, a former Edwards campaign adviser.
Former Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards has faced public and private challenges throughout his life and career.
The testimony showed that even as his career was crumbling around him, "John Edwards persisted in his efforts, if not to become president, to become vice president, attorney general and maybe even a Supreme Court justice," said Stephen Friedland, law professor at Elon University in Elon, N.C.
Other evidence from federal agents outlined lavish shopping spending by Hunter on shopping sprees and trips to Florida, Colorado and California, all bankrolled by Mellon and Baron.
Prosecutors closed their case Thursday by showing Edwards' interview with ABC News in August 2008, in which he flatly denied having fathered Quinn or that he ever asked for money for a coverup.
Edwards' campaign spokeswoman, Jennifer Palmieri — now the White House deputy communications director — testified this week that she intentionally scheduled the interview during the opening ceremonies of the 2008 Summer Olympic Games because she knew Edwards would lie.
"The jury has seen John Edwards on video, they've heard his voice on voice mails, they've seen emails from John Edwards, so Edwards is not just seen as the defendant, but he's been very much part of the testimony," Dellinger said of the prosecution's case.
"I think that puts more pressure on Edwards to take the stand when the defense presents their part of the case," he said.
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