John Edwards is in a courtroom in North Carolina right now, as the defendant, facing four charges surrounding the misuse and mishandling of campaign funds, as well as one count of conspiracy and another for making false statements. Each charge carries a possible sentence of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. The funds in question were those that were made by two very wealthy donors, and the issue is whether those funds were used to pay for the costs of having a mistress and covering up her existence. My question is why any of it matters, and what is accomplished by putting John Edwards in prison.
We all know the sordid details of what this once Presidential hopeful did, not only to his family, to his mistress, and the child that was the result of their relationship, but also to his own reputation. Without a doubt, he ruined everything. He had everything any of us could hope for and he trashed every bit of it. I just don’t see how the federal government, a trial and a prison sentence are going to make this of any better or serve the notion of justice. The case, itself, is shaky at best, as the three main witnesses are a former aide who was granted immunity, an elderly woman, too frail to make it to court, and a mistress, whose own story and motives could be considered questionable.
Most of the donations, and I even wonder if that term applies here, came from Rachel “Bunny” Lowe Lambert Lloyd Mellon, now 102 years old. Bunny’s pedigree is one which very few can match, and her wealth, much of which is tied up in trusts, is probably beyond most of our imaginations. The Lambert family to which she was born, acquired their money from companies like Gillettte, Warner-Lambert, and most recently, Pfizer. The Mellon family into which she married is well known in the banking industry as well as Carnegie Mellon University and the Mellon Institute. Calling these people wealthy would be a gross understatement. Bunny, herself, was close friends with President and Mrs. Kennedy, and that was how she became interested in John Edwards – she saw Camelot all over again in the face of the charming and well-coiffed candidate.
When Edwards first ran for President, in 2004, Bunny called his campaign headquarters to inquire as to how she could help. Some obviously foolish campaign worker failed to recognize the importance of her name and never passed the message along to anyone. That didn’t deter Bunny, and she tried again in 2008, this time successfully, to get through to the right people – the ones who know a gift horse when they see one. The message from Mrs. Mellon was delivered to Edwards, and he, very wisely, jumped at the opportunity to meet the grande dame in person. It was obviously a match made in heaven – she was smitten and he found a ton of cash.
Bunny started off making some relatively small donations of $10,000 to $25,000, and things went rather smoothly for a while. When she heard of the criticism of Edwards’ $400 haircuts, Bunny became outraged and found a new way to take care of her candidate’s financial needs – particularly those that might not have been exactly campaign related. Edwards’ right-hand man, Andrew Young soon found himself in the middle of this arrangement. Checks were delivered, inside boxes of chocolates, made out to Young’s wife, Cheri, and under her maiden name. The Youngs now claim that they found all of this rather disturbing, but soon found a way to assuage their own consciences – they started skimming a little for themselves.
When stories of an Edwards mistress, Rielle Hunter, began circulating, followed shortly by a rumored pregnancy, the Youngs took on a slightly bigger role. They were assigned the task of taking care of Hunter, finding an apartment for her and sometimes having her stay at their own home – a home, paid for, in part, with Bunny’s money. Their loyalty to Edwards, at the time, ran so deep, and the incoming money was so good, that Andrew Young claimed that he was, in fact, the father of Hunter’s unborn child. Then, say the Youngs, they began to question themselves and Edwards as to the morality of this arrangement. I think it was more a matter of their feeling undervalued and little bit used, but the Youngs would have us believe that they are some sort of courageous whistleblowers. Either way, this resulted in Edwards, along with other campaign employees, pulling away from the Youngs – icing them out if you will.
This is when the Youngs decided to tell their version of the truth to the media, which lead to the end of Edwards’ dream of becoming President. John Edwards, from that point forward, earned every bit of what he got. The demise of his political career was nothing, however, compared to what he deservedly received from his family. Elizabeth, his cancer-stricken wife, and their children turned their backs on him. His betrayal was so appalling that most of us couldn’t even put a satisfactory definition to it. The golden boy was beyond tarnished, and none of us wanted anything to do with him again – except his children.
John Edwards has been blessed with a daughter who has seen and been through things which would leave most of us still reeling. Cate Edwards, now 30 years old, and a graduate of Harvard Law, has been the glue holding this very broken family together. She has two younger siblings who she has helped raise since her mother first found out that her second bout of cancer was fatal. She was devoted to her mother, is the maternal figure for her younger sister and brother, and is now standing beside her father in court.
So, somebody tell me what this trial is supposed to achieve. I’m not going to forgive him for all the things he brought about, but that’s not really my place. He didn’t harm me in any way. If you want to say that he destroyed some public trust, well, at least for my generation, that was something that started long ago when Richard Nixon first set his eyes on the Watergate Hotel. I don’t need him sent to prison, not by a long stretch, so the prosecutors don’t need to do this in my name. He is living in a prison he designed, built and lives in, everyday. The people he hurt the most are the same people who need him the most. Sentencing him to a prison term, now matter how brief it may be, will really only punish them, and I don’t see any justice in that at all.