Louisiana Gov. Edwin W. Edwards (D) had been waiting for this day since his indictment on federal racketeering charges 10 months ago. He was on the witness stand, finally unrestrained by a gag rule, and 10 feet in front of him was his accuser, U.S. Attorney John Volz.
For six hours, they tested wills and wits. And when the cross-examination ended for the day, Edwards walked away with a cocksure strut.
Volz seemed agitated all day. His questions dripped with sarcasm as he tried to prove Edwards' involvement in what the prosecution claims was an illegal hospital-approval scheme. As the questioning neared an end, Volz asked: "Just at what point did your interest change from making money to meeting the needs of this state?"
"Mr. Volz," said Edwards, the sixth U.S. governor to stand trial in office, "I came to this witness stand on my own. I didn't have to, but I am here, and I came to tell the truth. Now I understand that as a prosecutor you would disdain that idea.
"But let me tell you something you can't sneer at: You issued subpoenas by the sackful. We produced documents by the truckful. And you have not been able to produce a single witness to contradict what I have said here today under oath. Here you have all the authority in the world, and you cannot produce anybody to contradict what I said."
Edwards' response left the prosecutor temporarily unable to remember the question. Whatever else the exchange achieved, it established that Volz and Edwards make a lively match.
From their opening greetings today -- Volz's stern "Governor" and Edwards' twinkling "Mornin' " -- the two went at each other as though engaged in private debate, often ignoring the judge and the other attorneys in the crowded courtroom.
Volz began by establishing that Edwards, a heavy recreational gambler, failed to report his winnings and losses on his federal income tax returns. Edwards acknowledged losing $10,000 to $50,000 a year and said he thought he was required to report his gambling activities only if he ended each year with a net gain.
"It's obvious you're laying the groundwork for a tax case, which has nothing to do with this case," Edwards said. "Let's move on to what this case is about."
That was Edwards playing judge. Soon he took the role of attorney, informing Volz that the quote Volz was trying to ask him about appeared on page 93 of his grand jury testimony.
"Did you memorize the whole transcript?" Volz asked.
"I memorized those parts I thought you might harp on," Edwards replied coolly.
He said that his profits from several hospital enterprises between 1981 and 1984 were legal and that he deserved the money, about $2 million, because he served as the "door opener" for his partners. He was then between terms as governor and said he helped his associates find hospital sites and overcome local political objections.
". . . All of a sudden, boom, we hit the jackpot," Edwards said. "It was a happy day at home."
"I bet it was," Volz said.
The prosecution claims that Edwards continued his covert partnership after his reelection, using his younger brother, Marion, as front man in a scheme to obtain and sell hospital and nursing-home approval certificates for illegal profit. Edwards said that he never made "one red nickel" from any hospital deal after he returned to office in 1984 and that his brother was his "own man."
In July 1984, Edwards declared a moratorium on such certificates but exempted eight projects, including two owned by his former partners. "I would not have done anything for them unless I could prove to myself and others that it was in the best interests of the state," he testified.
Volz asked repeatedly about actions Edwards had taken that helped associates. Finally, Edwards responded, "Man, I spent my life helping people -- friends and enemies. I even helped you [Volz] one time. It didn't do me any good, obviously, but I helped you."
"You did?" Volz asked.
"Yes, sir," said Edwards. "You called me and asked me to intercede in a matter that was of concern to you, and I made two or three calls for you."
Volz seemed to remember the incident but revealed nothing about it, instead saying, "And there's no personal animosity between us, is there, governor?"
"You do your job; I'll do mine," Edwards said.
"And there's no animosity?" Volz repeated.
"I'm under oath," said the governor.