Indictment looming in alleged John Edwards campaign finance violation

(Image: Llima Orosa/Flickr)

The U.S. Justice Department is set to indict John Edwards over alleged campaign finance violations within the next several weeks, ABC News reports. At the heart of the indictment is the improper use of campaign funds to help cover up Edwards’ affair with videographer Rielle Hunter, a relationship that produced a daughter, Quinn Hunter.

Edwards’ fate depends on the answers to several questions swirling around the Hunter affair. Compounding the difficulty of Edwards’ defense is the fact that the man at the center of it all is dead. Fred Baron, a Texas lawyer and Democratic fundraiser who served as campaign finance manager for Edwards during both the 2004 and 2008 presidential campaigns, said in 2008 that money he gave to Hunter and former Edwards aide Andrew Young to help them relocate to California was strictly a personal gift to a couple of friends. Young had claimed he was the father of Hunter’s child, at the insistence, Young now alleges, of John Edwards. Baron’s gift, the fundraiser said at the time, was driven by sympathy for two former colleagues who were suddenly dogged incessantly by the paparazzi and the mainstream media, and had no connection to any campaign donations.

Baron, however, died of cancer before the official, Edwards-sanctioned story behind Quinn Hunter unraveled. Less than a year after Baron’s death, Young told both a grand jury and MacMillan Publishers (their imprint Thomas Dunne Books published The Politician, Young’s scathing 2010 account of Edwards’ political career, presidential candidacies and the affair that brought them to a screeching halt) that Edwards demanded that Young claim paternity of Quinn Hunter. Months later, Edwards admitted that he was the father.

In his book, Young claimed that Baron wasn’t being entirely truthful when he said that he had just drawn on his personal bank account to help out a pair of friends in crisis. In all, Young, said, Baron directed around $700,000 of money from Rachel “Bunny” Mellon — the centenarian, multi-billionaire widow of banking heir Paul Mellon — to aid in the cover-up, first of Edwards’ affair with Rielle Hunter, and then of his parentage of her child. Sources tell ABC News that the Justice Department intends to show that the $700,000 was funneled away from general campaign donations Mellon had given. The Justice Department also has some hard questions for Edwards’ legal team — controversially headed by former White House counsel Greg Craig — about how further millions of Mellon’s money was spent, namely, if the now-defunct consulting firm that it was spent on was a legitimate campaign expense.

Edwards must now start thinking about whether he wants to pursue a plea bargain, which would guarantee a lighter sentence than would a straight conviction but would also permanently block him from ever going back to practicing law, or go out guns blazing with a plea of not guilty. It’s a question that Edwards and Craig are surely thinking hard about; sources tell Raleigh, North Carolina, CBS affiliate WRAL that Edwards fully expects to be indicted in the very near future.