DoJ Officials: Couldn't Interfere In Edwards Case Because 'It Would Be Seen As A Bad Thing'

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I'm not shocked. The administration was indeed between the proverbial rock and a hard place with this case, handicapped by the knowledge that, even though the case was weak, if they buried it the same way a Republican administration would do, the mighty Wurlitzer of the right-wing machine would blow it up into a major scandal.

But then again, making decisions in anticipation of right-wing reaction isn't exactly dealing from strength:

In the wake of John Edwards’s acquittal and mistrial this week, three Justice Department officials said that, although the department initially had concerns about the investigation begun by a North Carolina prosecutor, it eventually became full partners in the case.

The officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal matters, said that the Obama administration had inherited the investigation launched by former U.S. attorney George Holding of North Carolina’s Eastern District, who had been appointed by President George W. Bush.

One Justice official said that the case was considered politically sensitive and “it would be seen as a bad thing if we protected John Edwards and interfered in the North Carolina investigation by a Republican U.S. attorney.”

As Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr.’s Justice Department began appointing new U.S. attorneys across the country, he was urged by both senators from North Carolina — Democrat Kay Hagan and Republican Richard Burr — not to replace Holding. The prosecutor was in the middle of the investigation into whether Edwards had violated campaign finance laws, as well as a second political probe.

Hagan, who had just been elected, called the White House to recommend that Justice officials leave Holding in place until the investigation was complete.

“It is of the utmost importance to me, as well as to the people of North Carolina, that we ensure this process is carried out as transparently and honestly as possible,” Hagan said in a statement at the time.

As the investigation proceeded, one Justice official said, “people were squeamish about the theory of the prosecution but were reluctant to interfere with a U.S. attorney in the field.”

But by 2011, it was clear that high-ranking Justice officials were fully on board and had approved the indictment of Edwards.

“As this indictment shows, we will not permit candidates for high office to abuse their special ability to access the coffers of their political supporter to circumvent our election laws,” Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer said in announcing the indictment in June 2011. A month later, Holding resigned to run for Congress.

At the time, an array of legal experts, including former prosecutors, questioned the wisdom of bringing the charges against Edwards, saying it was an aggressive interpretation of campaign finance laws.


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