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Trump indictment draws comparisons to unsuccessful case against Democratic lawmaker

Former president Donald Trump waves at the top of the stairs as he boards his plane at Palm Beach International Airport, Monday, April 3, 2023, in West Palm Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)
Former president Donald Trump waves at the top of the stairs as he boards his plane at Palm Beach International Airport, Monday, April 3, 2023, in West Palm Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)
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The looming arraignment of former President Donald Trump has drawn comparisons to another case involving hush money and a presidential candidate.

Trump’s indictment is the first time a president has been charged with a crime, but he is not the first candidate to face criminal charges.

Former senator, two-time presidential candidate and 2004 Democratic vice presidential nominee John Edwards was also prosecuted for an alleged hush money payment to cover up an affair during one of his campaigns.

But unlike Trump, who is in the middle of his third presidential campaign, the charges weren’t filed against Edwards until years after he left politics.

Edwards was arrested and charged with violating campaign finance laws in 2011 for directing hush money to cover up an affair during his presidential campaign three years earlier. Federal prosecutors argued Edwards raised nearly $1 million from donors to conceal an affair to prevent damage to his presidential campaign.

His attorneys argued the donations were made as personal gifts from friends and were made to his campaign to hide the affair from his wife, not from voters. Trump’s legal team is expected to make a similar argument during a trial.

A jury found Edwards not guilty of receiving illegal campaign donations and deadlocked on five other charges after a six-week trial in 2012. The case was eventually dropped by the Justice Department.

Trump’s attorneys have already made comparisons of their own to the case against Edwards.

“Remember that case, where a third party paid for John Edwards’s mistress who was pregnant with his baby and all that stuff?” Trump lawyer Joe Tacopina said in an interview on MSNBC. “He was acquitted. And the DOJ dropped all charges on the hung counts on that.”

Exactly what charges Trump will face won’t be known until he is arraigned on Tuesday, as the case has been under seal. He is reportedly facing at least one felony charge and nearly three dozen total counts, but prosecutors have not offered any information on precise charges or what evidence they have.

“On the general parameters—the issue of hush money to avoid political scandal, the one trusted advisor/staffer who flips, and the accusations of political intentions with the charges being filed—are similar in both the John Edwards 2011 case and the current case against the former president,” said Michael Bitzer, chair of the politics department at Catawba College in North Carolina.

The case against Trump is centered around payments made on his behalf during the 2016 campaign to keep her from speaking publicly about an alleged affair. For years, the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office has been investigating whether the former president or his company broke any laws in connection with the payments.

Michael Cohen, Trump’s former personal attorney, has been convicted of charges stemming from the payment to Daniels and has testified before the New York grand jury. In that case, federal prosecutors argued the payments were illegal assistance to Trump’s campaign and Cohen said he arranged payments to Daniels and Playboy model Karen McDougal for them to keep quiet about alleged affairs.

Cohen could be an important witness in the case for New York prosecutors, but his credibility to a jury could be an issue without additional evidence. Trump and his attorneys have already attacked his credibility as a witness, noting that he has been convicted of perjury for lying to Congress.

In the case against Edwards, former aide Andrew Young took the stand and defense attorneys tried to persuade the jury that he was an inconsistent witness whose testimony was then unreliable.

Ultimately, the case against Edwards was dropped — a scenario Trump’s attorneys will be hoping to achieve themselves if it reaches a trial.

There are also questions surrounding the legal case over campaign finance violations and how they connect to state-level laws.

“One thing that is probably a lesson learned from the Edwards case for Trump’s prosecutors is to avoid the ultimate outcome: one not guilty verdict, with a deadlocked jury on the remaining counts,” Bitzer said. “That end result, I believe, sent a signal that a prosecution of this type of case has to clearly and convincingly lay out their evidence and connect all the dots of what the money went for, who the money benefited, and other aspects, especially when there can be a series of differing interpretations as answers to those questions.”

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