John Edwards' Trial Reminds Us of the Man He Wasn't

The trial of disgraced former Senator John Edwards is well underway, and there are nuggets both titillating and shameful coming forward. Are we supposed to feel sorry for him, after everything we've been through?

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The trial of disgraced former Senator (he coulda been a contender!) John Edwards, who is accused of breaking campaign finance laws, is well underway, and there are, as to be expected, nuggets both titillating and shameful coming forward. There are also, as to be expected, more questions to be asked.

But first, a question: We are supposed to almost feel sorry for Edwards, now, right? That's why we've gotten the sad tales of how he sits alone in his house in North Carolina, the house he shared with Elizabeth, who died of cancer in 2010. He's pretty much socially (don't even start with politically) shunned, and his love affair with Rielle Hunter has turned bitter. That's why we see, in photos, he's strained of face, sad around the eyes, maybe even a bit haunted. He's generally with his daughter, or mother—nurturing protective forces, you'd guess. He is a shell, you could say, of the big-grinning glad-hander we used to know. But as soon as you start to feel at all sorry for him (and, really, don't), you get a story like the one in Wednesday's New York Post written by Tara Palmeri. A blast from the past, if you will: And, yes, these are the things that come out in a trial over what was done way back in 2008, when John Edwards was, by appearances anyway, quite a different man, and campaigning for the Democratic presidential nomination.

As for that trial and what's at stake: Edwards could lose his law license and get up to 30 years in jail if convicted. The prosecution's basic requirement is to show that Edwards knew that money he received from Bunny Mellon and the late Fred Baron counted as campaign contributions, and that he broke the law in full awareness. But the micro of what's happened at the trial thus far is much sleazier, and the facts more complicated.

According to the testimony of former devoted aide Andrew Young, who reportedly broke the news of Hunter's pregnancy to his boss because Hunter had not been able to reach Edwards, Edwards responded with the following eloquence: “He said that she was ‘a crazy slut,’ and it was a ‘one-in-three chance’ that it was his child," writes Palmeri. (Edwards also apparently referred to Hunter as just "her" most of the time.) Young, who is testifying with guaranteed immunity, shared details about how Hunter was "allegedly funneled $1.2 million" to keep quiet about the love affair and her and Edwards' child. She needed that money, described by Young as a " truckload of money, more money than had ever flowed through our accounts," because they were "scared" and because Hunter "had good taste." Examples of such follow, via the Post:

The unemployed Hunter was given a BMW, dined almost exclusively on organic foods, and indulged in shopping sprees at Neiman Marcus starting in May 2007 after she threatened to go public, Young testified.

She traveled by private plane and demanded upgrades to luxury suites if the spiritual “energy” in a hotel room was bad.

She was given a credit card in the name of “R. Jaya James” and a monthly allowance between $5,000 and $12,000.

This was all being floated, if unknowingly so, by 101-year-old heiress Bunny Mellon, who cut checks to the tune of some $725,000 that made their way to Hunter. The campaign-donation limit is $2,300. Prosecutors say that Edwards knew he was in violation of the law, but Mellon, according to Young, simply thought her money was going to help Edwards get elected (her interior designer Bryan Huffman and Young's wife endorsed checks, which included messages like "Go John Edwards," and got the money to Hunter). Edwards, said Young, tried to convince the team that it was legal, and they believed him: "But Edwards knew all along what the money was truly going for, Young testified," even while the president-not-to-be tried to stay oblivious of the logistical details of the arrangement.

Of couse, there are continued questions here. What does it mean if Mellon truly didn't know—we're talking about a 101-year-old very wealthy and nearly blind woman who had others manage her finances. If she didn't know, and Edwards did, an argument supported by Young's testimony, is there something more criminal here than breaking campaign finance laws? Was she, perhaps, being defrauded as well? Certainly, the details in this case are very different than the one with Pierce O'Donnell, Hollywood bigwig lawyer who accepted a plea for his illegal contributions to Edward's 2004 campaign for president, receiving 60 days in prison and a $20,000 fine—a fact underscored by Edwards being on trial here, not Mellon.

Either way, all this seems to represent a kind of perfect storm of badness in Edwards' continued shame spiral. Not only did he have a mistress, who had his baby, while his wife was dying, he defrauded an old lady? And then he called his mistress a "crazy slut"? No wonder he hides in his house alone these days.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.