The judge said he would expel anyone who laughed or cheered, for this was a court of law, not theater, but the trial of Louisiana's governor had reached its final act, the lead character was on stage, and what he was doing up there seemed like theater to the overflow audience in Room 468 of the federal building. It was the world according to Edwin Edwards.
In the world according to Edwin Edwards, governor of Louisiana, there are different kinds of oaths. That is crucial to understand since the performance last week was in a judicial setting -- the fraud and bribery trial of Edwards and seven associates -- where oaths are taken every day. There is, for example, the paralyzing oath.
On Wednesday, when U.S. Attorney John Volz asked Edwards a question, the governor answered with the hedge: "I'm not going to take a paralyzing oath on it."
"What, governor, is a paralyzing oath?" asked Volz.
"Oh, that's when if you lie under oath, you get paralyzed," said Edwards.
Delving into the governor's world for a moment, Volz inquired as to whether a paralyzing oath was what Edwards had taken that morning on the witness stand.
"Oh no," said the governor, whose case is expected to go to the jury at midweek. "This is a far more serious oath. My soul in eternity rests on the validity of my testimony here today. And that's far more serious than any malady that can be visited upon me on this Earth."
Since the world according to Edwards is primarily a political one, and has been since he won a seat on the Crowley, La., City Council 31 years ago, it is also essential to grasp the governor's concept of politics. Last Tuesday, Edwards explained what it meant to do one's job as a state senator.
Joe Sevario was his idea of a good state senator. Sevario represented the Gonzalez area between Baton Rouge and New Orleans, where Edwards and two associates wanted to develop a hospital complex. "Joe came to me and said he and some other politicians would have to say they were against it for their constituents, but they really were not against it," Edwards explained. " 'We'll oppose it,' Joe said to me. 'But we won't say much about it.' Joe was doing his job as senator."
Exchanging pleasantries is also important in the world according to Edwin Edwards, as the governor made clear when he testified about his dealings with the Gamble brothers, Kit and Kevin, a pair of nursing-home operators in the Shreveport area. After the Gamble brothers got a special exemption to construct three nursing homes despite a state moratorium, word went out that one of the brothers was bragging about how he had bribed state officials.
"When I heard rumors of the bribe, I called Kit Gamble," Edwards testified. "We exchanged pleasantries. Then I said: 'I hear you're going around saying you paid off the governor.' He said it wasn't true. We exchanged more pleasantries. And I hung up."
When exchanging pleasantries with people like the Gamble brothers, in the world according to Edwin Edwards, it is sometimes necessary to remind them to tell the truth. After asking Kit Gamble about the bribe, for instance, Edwards later talked to Kevin Gamble about it. They were on a receiving line in Shreveport. Kevin said he did not know about any payoffs, either. "Well, whatever you do, if anyone asks you about our conversation just now, tell the truth," Edwards told him.
Volz asked Edwards why he felt compelled to remind a Gamble brother to tell the truth. "Well," explained the governor, "the fact is that at grand jury investigations, it is standard policy of prosecutors to ask people: 'What did the governor tell you?' So this way they could say I told them to tell the truth."
Edwards is considered a grand jury expert. He has been investigated by 11 of them since 1973.
The truth is an interesting concept in the world according to Edwin Edwards. At a news conference in September 1984, Edwards said he received a fee for his role in the development of a hospital in East Baton Rouge. In fact, Edwards received more than a fee: he was 50 percent owner in a concealed arrangement with two associates.
"Why didn't you tell people you had a part ownership?" prosecutor Volz asked the governor.
"It was in part a fee," said Edwards, who then acknowledged it was more than a fee.
"But that is not the whole truth," said Volz.
"It is partially true," said Edwards.
"And it was partially false," said Volz.
"If something is only partially true, it must be partially false," conceded Edwards.
Logic of that clarity is commonplace in the world according to Edwin Edwards. When Volz asked him why he forgot to list something on a financial disclosure document, the governor replied: "But I didn't forget, because that implies a conscious effort to remember."
The matter that Edwards made no conscious effort to remember was the money he made as a partner in four hospital plans. The financial disclosure statement he filed after winning the gubernatorial election in 1983 did not list his role in the hospitals or the money he made from them. The financial disclosure statement was prepared for Edwards by a consultant named Tom Jones.
"When he finished it, I leafed through it, kind of like I do with my income taxes," Edwards testified. "I leafed through it and gave it back to him. No, first I noticed that he had listed the wrong address on one of the corporations. I had that fixed, then I gave it back to Mr. Jones."
"You noticed a wrong address but you didn't notice that nearly $2 million had been left off?" Volz asked incredulously.
"Well it wasn't $2 million yet," Edwards responded correctly. "I had made $716,000 at that point."
"So a little less than a million," said Volz.
"$284,000 less," said Edwards.
"Your memory gets better when it's more than a million, then," said Volz.
"A natural human reaction," said Edwards.
Millions come and millions go. Edwards testified that he made $10 million in the four years between his gubernatorial terms, only $2 million of that from the hospital enterprises that got him in trouble. He kept a lot of the money in cash for his trips to the gambling tables of Nevada, where he lost $10,000 to $50,000 a year playing under the aliases of Ed Neff and T. Wong.
There is a kind of thrill to going by an alias in the world according to Edwin Edwards. "I guess it kind of makes you feel good to walk up to a crap table, get some chips, and give them a false name," the governor testified. "It's a kind of braggadocio, a kind of security, a kind of anonymity. One time I stood behind the computer printout at Harrah's and, boom, out came my aliases, my credit on the trip, what I had spent, what I had left. It was kind of a good feeling."
But just because Edwards made $10 million in four years and gambled a lot of it away does not mean that he lost his populist touch.
The little people play a very big role in the world according to Edwin Edwards. He felt especially proud of the hospitals he was involved in, he testified, because they would improve medical services for the poor and needy and bring more jobs to the state, jobs for "the plumbers, the bricklayers, the electricians."
Those have always been his people, he said. In the 1983 gubernatorial election against Republican David C. Treen, Democrat Edwards noted, he represented "the average man, the working man, the needy, the minorities, the unemployed," whereas Treen was "the business candidate."
Free enterprise is good for the average man in the world according to Edwin Edwards. "There's a nightmare out there," he testified, when explaining the red tape and bureacracy one encounters trying to get hospitals built. The state and federal rules for hospitals are "restrictive and silly."
"So silly that you made almost $2 million from them," said Volz, ever the straight man. "That was silly?"
"No," said the governor. "No. That was smart.