John Edwards and his fall from grace

To say that former U.S. Senator John Edwards (D-N.C.) has “fallen from grace” almost goes without saying.

He was once sitting on top of the world. He was a U.S. Senator from a southern state. He was articulate, unashamedly liberal, and blessed with boyish good looks. He was 2004 Democratic Party presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry’s (D-Mass.) vice presidential running mate.

His career as a successful trial lawyer had made him an independently wealthy man. He was so confident of his future; he declined to seek re-election to the Senate after only one term in office. He was a viable contender for the 2008 presidential nomination. What could go wrong?

He sinned.

But all men and women sin.

He betrayed his wife, who was battling cancer, fathering a child with a filmmaker-campaign worker. He denied his paternity while pursuing the highest office in the land. He betrayed the confidence of those who supported him, believed in him.

He had admittedly sinned and surely had fallen from favor with the Lord on High. He was disgraced, divorced, and discredited. His former wife Elizabeth succumbed to her illness last December. Any sympathy people might have had for John was interred with Elizabeth. What could possibly go wrong after all that?

Johnny Reid Edwards was indicted on June 3 by a federal grand jury, and charged with six counts of conspiracy and campaign finance violations, that’s all. He is accused of using more than $900,000 in campaign contributions to pay his paramour to help keep their tryst and their “love child” a secret.

Now, the boyish, handsome, articulate, successful former presidential candidate is facing huge legal bills, and the possibility of a year in jail and a $1 million fine.

Oh, how the mighty have fallen.

“There’s no question that I’ve done wrong, and I take full responsibility for having done wrong,” Edwards told reporters outside federal court in Winston-Salem, North Carolina shortly after his indictment. “And I will regret for the rest of my life the pain and the harm that I have caused to others, but I did not break the law and I never, ever thought that I was breaking the law.,” he said.

That last phrase is important, because in order to get a conspiracy conviction, prosecutors will have to convince a jury that the boyish, handsome, soft-spoken defendant knew that his actions were illegal.

The indictment says he “did knowingly and willfully combine, conspire, confederate, and agree with others” to “accept and receive, while a candidate for federal office, contributions” “in excess of the limits of the Elections Act.”

The indictment says Edwards’s actions caused his campaign to file false campaign finance reports. And it goes on to say the purpose of the conspiracy was to cover up the former senator’s affair with Rielle Hunter. “Democracy demands that our election system be protected, and without vigorously enforced campaign finance laws, the people of this country lose their voice,” declared U.S. Attorney George Holding in a statement after the indictment was announced.

To say that former Senator John Edwards has “fallen from grace” almost goes without saying.

Just before Edwards was indicted, prosecutors made one final offer to his legal team: They would accept his guilty plea to three misdemeanor campaign finance law violations, according to published reports.

With the deal, the former vice presidential nominee would avoid a felony conviction and almost certainly be able to keep the law license that had made him a millionaire. But there was one caveat. The government wanted to include a sentence that would result in up to six months of jail time, even with the plea to lesser charges.

Edwards and his lawyers were concerned. They wanted to be able to at least argue to a judge for alternatives, such as a halfway house, weekend releases, home arrest or some other arrangement that would allow the boyish, articulate defendant time to be with his school-age children. He is a single parent since his wife died. Poor wretch. He once was found, but now he may be lost.

Because, there is no grace–amazing, saving, or otherwise–remaining on the John Edwards ledger. Now only his judgement remains…before a jury of his peers, at least this time that is.

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