Ex-presidential hopeful Edwards indicted over affair

By James Vicini and Jeremy Pelofsky

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Former Democratic presidential hopeful John Edwards was indicted on Friday for using illegal campaign contributions to cover up an extramarital affair, a fall from grace for a man who was once expected to go far in American politics.

Edwards, 57, was charged with six counts of conspiracy, illegal campaign contributions and making false statements, according to the federal indictment.

He was due to appear at a 2:30 p.m. (1830 GMT) hearing in District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina, in Winston-Salem, the Justice Department said.

Edwards’ lawyer has denied any wrongdoing.

The indictment accused Edwards of secretly obtaining hundreds of thousands of dollars and using them to cover up his extramarital affair with a campaign worker, Rielle Hunter, knowing that revelations of the liaison and her subsequent pregnancy would destroy his presidential bid.

The affair would undermine “Edwards’ presentation of himself as a family man and by forcing his campaign to divert personnel and resources away from other campaign activities to respond to criticism and media scrutiny regarding the affair and pregnancy,” the indictment said.

The affair ran from February 2006 until August 2008. Edwards was accused of receiving more than $900,000 in illegal contributions, according to the 19-page indictment. The federal limit on individual contributions to candidates at the time was $2,300.

Edwards, a trial lawyer and former U.S. senator, eventually admitted to the affair and that he fathered a child with Hunter. He and his wife, Elizabeth, separated, and she died of cancer last year.

He ran for the White House in 2004 and 2008 and was selected as the vice-presidential running-mate by Democratic Senator John Kerry in 2004 but their bid to unseat incumbent President George W. Bush failed.

(Reporting by James Vicini and Jeremy Pelofsky, editing by Vicki Allen and Doina Chiacu)