A federal judge refused to throw out campaign corruption charges against John Edwards on Friday, meaning the former presidential hopeful will have to present his case to a jury.
Lawyers for Edwards argued before U.S. District Court Judge Catherine C. Eagles that prosecutors failed to prove the 2008 candidate intentionally violated the law or that some of the alleged offenses actually occurred in the Middle District of North Carolina, the venue where he was indicted.
After 2 1/2 hours of arguments from the defense and rebuttal from the prosecution, the judge ruled quickly from the bench that the government had met its basic burden under the law.
"We will let the jury decide," Eagles said.
Motions to dismiss are routine in criminal trials, but rarely granted. The decision means Edwards' defense team will begin calling its first witnesses Monday.
He is accused of masterminding a scheme to use nearly $1 million in secret payments from two wealthy donors to help hide his pregnant mistress as he sought the Democratic presidential nomination in 2008. He faces up to 30 years in prison if convicted on all counts.
Edwards' lead attorney Abbe Lowell said that in 14 days of testimony the government failed to present any direct evidence Edwards intended to violate campaign finance laws when hiding his affair or lying about it to his wife, his campaign and the American people. Lots of cheating husbands lie, Lowell argued.
"They have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr. Edwards knew he was violating the law and did so with specific intent," Lowell told the judge. "No one is going to deny that Mr. Edwards lied and lied and lied But what did he lie about?"
Despite their case surviving the defense's motion to dismiss, legal observers in the courtroom agreed with Lowell that the government's case has been weak.
"They have established their case enough to get to a jury, but it has holes in it," said Kieran J. Shanahan, a Raleigh defense lawyer and former federal prosecutor. "He is not charged with being a liar and he is not charged with having a baby out of wedlock. He is charged with breaking campaign finance laws."
Prosecutors rested their case Thursday by playing a tape of a 2008 national television interview in which the Democrat repeatedly lied about his extramarital affair and denied fathering his mistress' baby. Earlier testimony from a parade of former aides and advisers also showed an unappealing side of Edwards, casting him as a liar and lousy husband.
A key question is whether Edwards will take the stand.
His testimony would expose himself to a likely withering cross-examination about his many past lies and personal failings.