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Expert: Edwards case difficult one to prosecute

It is a long fall for John Edwards, from former Senator and presidential candidate to an indictment on felony charges. After a two-year Justice Department investigation, a federal grand jury has indicted Edwards, accusing him of using more than $900,000 in campaign contributions to keep his pregnant mistress out of sight during his 2008 run for president.

Edwards' attorneys dispute the feds' definition of campaign contributions under the law, and say no campaign funds were used to pay for Rielle Hunter's travel and accommodations.

Following his arraignment yesterday at a federal courthouse in Winston-Salem, N.C., Edwards said he will fight the indictment.

"I will regret for the rest of my life the pain and the harm that I have caused to others," Edweards said. "But I did not break the law."

"What he is doing is saying, 'Look, I may be a total scum bag, I've done terrible things in my life, but that is no reason to convict me of a crime that I didn't do.' That is really smart," said CBS News chief legal correspondent Jan Crawford. "He's really basically fronting that issue. Because jurors are not going to have a lot of sympathy for him at this point, based on, you know, all of the stuff that he acknowledges that he did. So he's not a sympathetic figure. He's just fronting that, saying, 'Look, I did terrible things, but ... let's look at the law. I didn't break the law.'

"I think that's very clever," she said. "'We all know you can't convict people just for being a jerk. I mean, his argument [is] that you can convict half the people in Washington if that was the case, or maybe more."

Edwards' lawyers plan an aggressive defense. They initially tried to work out a plea deal with the Justice Department to avoid a trial. The feds insisted Edwards plead guilty to a felony, which would carry jail time, so the case will go to trial.

When asked if the Edwards defense team passing on a plea deal means they are confident their case is strong enough to win, Crawford said, "Oh, absolutely.

"You heard Greg Craig, his lawyer, say, 'This is unprecedented, this has never been pursued by the prosecution,'" said Crawford. "So they're going to say, 'Listen, this case should not be brought trial.'"

Crawford said Edwards could face jail time.

"He is charged with six different counts, including conspiracy and making false statements, and if he's convicted on any one of them, he could face stiff fines, and jail time," Crawford said. "It's obviously hard to know much. There's a range, based on the amount of money that he allegedly misspent on Rielle Hunter, but it could be several years."

Crawford said chances were very high that Edwards' former mistress, Rielle Hunter, would take the stand.

"She's a witness in this case," Crawford said. "She has been interviewed by that grand jury before they handed down the indictment. I would expect her to be called in this case.

"Let me emphasize again, this isn't an easy case for the prosecution," Crawford added. "They've got complicated facts here, we're talking about Rielle Hunter, she's a witness, but some other witnesses are going to be really difficult and have some credibility problems."

Among them: Former aide Andrew Young, who claimed initially he was the father of Rielle's baby in order to hide the baby's true paternity. "I think [he'll] have enormous credibility problems," Crawford said. "John Edwards' lawyers will go at him very hard."

Crawford also noted that problems surround two key witnesses: Fred Baron, one of Edwards' donors, had died; and 'Bunny' Mellon, who donated nearly a quarter-million dollars to Edwards, is 100 years old, and her health issues preclude her traveling to attend the trial.

"This, I think, is going to be quite a difficult case for the prosecution to make," said Crawford.

  • David Morgan

    David Morgan is a senior editor at CBSNews.com and cbssundaymorning.com.