Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) issued is statement on the John Edwards mistrial:
Today’s verdict in the trial of former presidential candidate John Edwards isn’t just a black eye for the Department of Justice (DOJ), it’s a knockout punch for the once vaunted Public Integrity Section. As noted by nearly every campaign finance lawyer who considered the matter, this was a lousy case. All the salacious details prosecutors offered up to prove that Edwards is, indeed, despicable, were not enough to persuade the jury to convict him.
It is all the more astounding DOJ brought this case, given the Department’s refusal to prosecute other politicians, such as former Sen. John Ensign (R-NV), Rep. Don Young (R-AK), and now-deceased Rep. John Murtha (D-PA), all of whom engaged in much clearer crimes. Further, the Department botched its last prosecution of a high profile politician, now-deceased Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK).
It is hard to imagine DOJ will retry Edwards, but given the choice to bring this case in the first place, anything is possible. You’d think DOJ would recognize there are more pressing issues confronting our nation than whether Roger Clemens took steroids and John Edwards hid his mistress, but maybe not. DOJ should apologize to the American people for wasting scarce taxpayer dollars and focus resources on serious matters like the widespread mortgage fraud or the financial crisis that harmed millions of Americans.
While this case is over for Edwards, federal candidates remain in a quandary with little guidance as to what is and is not a legitimate campaign expense. If Edwards could be prosecuted for failing to report third parties’ payments to his mistress, there is no telling what else the Department will consider a campaign contribution. DOJ should immediately issue guidance on this point and explain if and when candidates can rely on the Federal Election Commission. The U.S. criminal justice system requires fair notice of what is and is not against the law. Sadly, DOJ seems to have forgotten this fundamental American precept. Luckily, the jury remembered.