John Edwards' political career was already over. The National Enquirer had seen to that.
After the supermarket tabloid's splashy revelation that the former U.S. senator and presidential candidate had betrayed his popular and cancer-stricken wife by fathering a child with a worshipful campaign videographer, the North Carolina Democrat was done. To some, such public humiliation would have been punishment enough.
But a platoon of federal prosecutors, led by a partisan Republican and supported by a division of the Justice Department that has a less-than-stellar record of dispensing justice, decided they wanted a piece of Edwards, too.
So they charged Edwards with violating federal campaign finance laws by funneling nearly a million dollars in support and/or hush money to the politician's mistress.
Thursday, after much sound and fury and jokes and tweets, a jury acquitted Edwards on one count in the indictment and failed to reach a verdict on the other five. Sources say a retrial is unlikely, and that is as it should be.
Not everything that is filthy and ugly is a crime.
As a big-time trial lawyer and politician, Edwards made a lot of friends over the years. Some of them are very rich. A couple of them were moved to give a lot of money to keep the woman in question comfortable and quiet while Edwards was making another presidential run in 2008.
But nobody was able to convince the jury, or any of a number of outside lawyers and experts who offered their opinions to the media in recent days, that the payments were meant as, thought to be, or could in any way be construed as being, campaign contributions.
It didn't help that the main prosecution witness, a former campaign aide who turned state's evidence in return for immunity, was shown to have pocketed a lot of the money himself. Or that no one could establish that Edwards himself directed, or even knew about, the payments.
The prosecution of Edwards was launched by a Republican U.S. attorney who has since left that post to run for Congress. And it was carried through by the same Justice Department division that ended the career of Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens, convicting him on campaign finance charges in a case later shown to have been marred by prosecutors withholding evidence that would have helped the defense.
Stevens died shortly after being convicted.
People have plenty of reasons to worry that big money influences our elected leaders. That's not what this case was about. It was about voyeurism, vengeance and excess. And the jury, to its credit, saw that.
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