Edwards seeks refuge from a trial at war with itself, a legal contest with a split personality. One trial is a splashy, prurient drama, a tale of lust, deception and boundless ambition; the other is a trial anesthetized by the minutiae of campaign-finance law, a snoozer about “Schedule A” itemized receipts and the “allocation of primary expenditures” for a presidential candidate.
In three weeks of testimony, prosecutors have been intent on marrying the two trials. They’ve presented evidence that the flashy details — the private jets and fancy houses used in the coverup of Edwards’s extramarital affair with the videographer Rielle Hunter and their love child, born in February 2008 — a month after he dropped out of the presidential race — were paid for with money that violated the much more yawn-inducing campaign-finance rules. Defense attorneys, who will begin calling witnesses Monday, have been intent on separating the trials, focusing the jury’s attention on the dull stuff while conceding almost all the rest.
He ‘lied and lied and lied’
At times, Edwards’s famed defense attorney, Abbe Lowell, appears bent on setting some kind of record for calling his own client a liar, seldom missing an opportunity to get witnesses to confirm the former senator’s mendacity. “Yes, Mr. Edwards is making 18,267 false and exculpatory statements,” Lowell said during a hearing last week with federal judge Catherine Eagles. “No one is going to deny that Mr. Edwards lied and lied and lied and lied.”
But Lowell is constructing a narrative about a man who lied for all the right reasons: primarily to spare his wife, Elizabeth Edwards, from more heartache while she battled the cancer that eventually claimed her life. And prosecutors are countering with the notion that Edwards lied because his indiscretions would have ruined his political career.
The 58-year-old Edwards watches it all with a weary glumness in an art-deco-style courthouse in Greensboro, a city of more than a quarter-million set among the rolling hills of North Carolina’s north-central Piedmont region. The skin on his face is looser than in days gone by when he was dismissed by some as a slick-talking pretty boy. Sitting at the defense table, he unlooses long, leonine yawns without bothering to cover his mouth, as if he were in the room alone. When he’s not taking notes on a legal pad, he steeples his forefingers against his lips, then does the same with his pinkie fingers. Then repeats the pattern. Forefingers, pinkies. Forefingers, pinkies. Or he taps his left ring finger against the table — though there’s no ring on it anymore.