Closing arguments in the John Edwards trial are set to begin Thursday. But the political significance of the trial in defining the limits of campaign finance has been greatly dampened.
The defense rested abruptly Wednesday without Mr. Edwards taking the stand, marking the end of a courtroom drama that had plenty of drama but little of what the prosecution had promised, analysts and observers say.
Before the trial began, prosecuting attorney Lanny Breuer said the federal government won’t “permit candidates for high office to abuse their special ability to access the coffers of their political supporters to circumvent our election laws.”
But what followed became little more than an effort to put a deplorable face on the alleged evils of breaking campaign-finance law. Edwards, prosecutors said, funneled $900,000 of campaign cash to his pregnant mistress to hide the affair from his ill wife and to keep his name in the running as a potential 2008 vice presidential candidate.
To some, the prosecution has overreached in an attempt to net a big fish. Yet the broader context of the trial has also played no small part in stripping it of deeper meaning for the political world. Indeed, given the US Supreme Court’s landmark Citizens United ruling in 2010, a candidate in a similar situation today would likely be able move such money to its target in an alternate, and legal, way.
As it is, prosecutors are seeking convictions on six felony counts. Defense lawyers say that, even if Edwards knew about the transaction, it was far from a clear campaign cash violation and doesn’t rise to the level of a felony.