Defense Rests In John Edwards Trial

The defense in the John Edwards trial rested on Wednesday. Attorneys for the former presidential candidate and vice presidential nominee did not call Edwards, his daughter or Rielle Hunter, the woman he had an affair with and who bore his child. Edwards is accused of skirting federal campaign finance laws by accepting secret payments to cover up the affair and further his political ambitions. North Carolina Public Radio's Jeff Tiberii speaks with Melissa Block from Greensboro, N.C.

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

Closing arguments are scheduled for tomorrow in the case against former presidential candidate and vice presidential nominee John Edwards. He is accused of receiving almost a million dollars in secret payments from two donors. The government claims Edwards used the money in 2007 and 2008 to cover up his affair with campaign worker Rielle Hunter who later bore his child. Edwards' defense rested today without calling Edwards or Hunter to the witness stand. North Carolina Public Radio's Jeff Tiberii joins me from Greensboro. And, Jeff, the defense rested after just two days. Was that a surprise?

JEFF TIBERII, BYLINE: Not all that much of a surprise, Melissa. This was a case in which law experts say the defense did a very good job in cross examination of government witnesses. They brought out some important questions. They discredited some of the government witnesses and, ultimately, they were able to tell some of their side of the story, present some of the defense while the prosecution witnesses were on the stand. So just two and a half days necessary, in their eyes.

BLOCK: And, as a trial attorney himself, John Edwards was well known for his skill in winning over juries, but still a very risky thing for him to take the stand himself.

TIBERII: That's just it. And, ultimately, his attorneys decided that opening him up to cross-examination would be a huge risk, one they weren't willing to take, one perhaps they didn't think that was necessary.

Also, let's be frank here. This is a man, a former politician, who was caught lying in a couple of television interviews and putting him on the stand, potentially a risk there, as well.

BLOCK: Two other witnesses the defense said it might call but ultimately didn't were Rielle Hunter and John Edwards' daughter, Kate. Neither of them took the stand, as well.

TIBERII: Rielle Hunter, the woman who Edwards is accused of allegedly trying to hide, his mistress four or five years ago, is viewed as a bit of a loose cannon, a wild card almost, and to put her on the stand - there was some concern about what may come out, what kinds of things she would be asked and what kinds of things she would say under cross-examination.

In terms of Kate, ultimately, the defense decided they didn't need to do it. While she could have humanized her dad, there was really not much she could offer related to campaign finance violations.

BLOCK: And, Jeff, the prosecution needs to prove, if they're going to get a conviction, that Edwards knew he was violating campaign finance laws. Did any of the witnesses that the government called explicitly say that?

TIBERII: Not explicitly. Not explicitly. There were some that insinuated or inferred that he was, in fact, aware of a cover-up of Ms. Hunter, but there were no witnesses that came forward and said, John Edwards was aware of this payment or this check. There was no evidence that was introduced in terms of a check that had John Edwards' name on it or that came from a bank account of his or that even went through his John Edwards for President campaign. So nothing explicit, to answer your question.

BLOCK: Now, today, attorneys for both sides have been in court talking with the judge, talking about the instructions that the jury's going to be given before it starts deliberating. Why are those instructions so important?

TIBERII: There's no precedent in this case, so it's very important for both sides, the defense and the government, to argue about particular phrases and language that they want the jury to be told this is what you need to consider when trying to decide whether or not John Edwards made these campaign finance violations. So they're arguing over very specific words, as simple as, the, or a. But, also, the sole purpose of influencing a campaign or was it a tangential purpose? And these are all different little bits of language that were coming into the courtroom this afternoon.

BLOCK: OK. So closing arguments tomorrow and then the jury gets the case when?

TIBERII: They'll get it on Friday. And, if convicted, John Edwards faces up to 30 years in prison, although a couple of former federal prosecutors have told me if he is convicted, he would likely serve just a fraction of that.

BLOCK: OK. Jeff Tiberii with North Carolina Public Radio, thanks so much.

TIBERII: Thank you, Melissa.

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