John Edwards indicted by federal grand juryThe case of USA v. Johnny Reid Edwards contains six counts, including conspiracy, four counts of illegal campaign contributions and one count of false statements. The indictment was returned in the Middle District of North Carolina Friday.
CBS Affiliate WRAL reports that a warrant has been issued for Edwards' arrest, and that he is expected to appear in a Winston-Salem courtroom Friday afternoon.
The indictment is the culmination of a federal investigation that lasted more than two years and scoured through virtually every corner of Edwards' political career.
Edwards' attorney Greg Craig met Friday with prosecutors in North Carolina, an indication that the former presidential candidate is likely to be charged, either in a grand jury indictment or in a negotiated charge to which he would plead guilty.
Justice Department officials in Washington have approved criminal charges; they decided that the hundreds of thousands of dollars that two Edwards donors gave to help keep his mistress in hiding were contributions that should have been reported publicly by his campaign fund because they aided his bid for the Democratic White House nomination.
Edwards' lawyers have argued that the funds were gifts from old friends intended to keep the affair a secret from his wife, Elizabeth, who died of cancer in December.
Edwards' attorneys have denounced the investigation as a waste of resources and contend he did not violate the law.
The case against Edwards focused on the private money used to keep Edwards' mistress in hiding. Andrew Young, a former aide to Edwards, initially claimed paternity of mistress Rielle Hunter's child and traveled around the country keeping her in seclusion. Young has said he received hundreds of thousands of dollars of support from two wealthy Edwards donors.
WRAL reports that the federal investigation zeroed in on money from Rachel "Bunny" Mellon, a 100-year-old heiress to pharmaceutical and banking fortunes and a major donor to Edwards' campaign; and from wealthy Texas lawyer Fred Baron, who served as Edwards' campaign finance chairman.
Mellon gave $3.4 million in late 2007 to The Alliance for a New America, a nonprofit supporting Edwards' candidacy. Former Edwards aide Andrew Young wrote last year in his tell-all book, "The Politician," that Mellon also gave Edwards $700,000 as a gift for personal use.
Young told WRAL News in a 2010 interview that Mellon was in the dark about how her money - campaign workers commonly referred to the checks she wrote as "Bunny money" - was being used.
According to Young, Baron financed flights and paid $20,000 a month in rent on a California home for Hunter and Young's family during the period when Young pretended to be the father of Hunter's baby to protect Edwards from negative publicity.
Young also told WRAL News that Baron paid him $325,000 to finish his own home back in Chapel Hill so it could be sold when he moved to California.
Baron died from cancer in 2008, but his widow appeared before the federal grand jury in Raleigh in January. Investigators also interviewed Mellon twice at her estate in Virginia, and some of her family members testified before the grand jury in December.
Hunter, Young and other campaign insiders testified before the grand jury in 2009.
If Edwards goes to trial to fight the charges and loses, sentencing guidelines would factor in the money involved in the cover-up. A case involving $1 million to $2.5 million could signal a prison sentence of 51 to 63 months.
Another dent in an Edwards' revival is moving ahead in civil court, where Young and Hunter are battling over a purported sex tape involving the former candidate. Edwards has been deposed as part of that lawsuit.