NBC: 'Critics Blast' 'Bad Case' Against John Edwards, 'Did Government Overreach?'

At the top of Monday's NBC Today, co-host Matt Lauer touted objections to the indictment of former Democratic Senator John Edwards: "Some critics blast the government's case against the former presidential candidate. Why they say what he did may not have been against the law."

Introducing a later report on the scandal, fellow co-host Meredith Vieira similarly proclaimed: "There are growing questions over the indictment of former presidential candidate John Edwards for allegedly using campaign funds to hide an affair. Did the government overreach?" The headline that appeared on screen read: "Bad Guy or Bad Case?; Legal Experts Question Indictment of John Edwards."   

Senior investigative correspondent Lisa Myers asserted: "Usually when a disgraced politician gets indicted, there is widespread applause. But not this time. Even some who find Edwards' behavior despicable question the strength of this case." She sympathetically portrayed Edwards: "A friend of Edwards' late wife Elizabeth told NBC that despite John's betrayal, nobody wanted him to face criminal charges. They worry about the couple's young children, Jack and Emma Claire."  

Myers briefly noted that Edwards had been "charged with soliciting and covering up almost a million dollars, provided by two wealthy donors" to conceal an affair and child with Rielle Hunter during his 2008 presidential run. However, she then declared: "The indictment has triggered unusual criticism of the Justice Department. From conservatives.... And from campaign watchdogs."

The conservative she cited was Rick Henderson of North Carolina's John Locke Foundation, the supposed "campaign watchdog" she cited was Melanie Sloan of the liberal organization, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.

In addition, Myers also cited a Washington Post Editorial Board Op/Ed: "It is troubling that the Justice Department would choose to devote its scarce resources to pursuing this questionable case."

Myers' report was very much on par with the view of left-wing MSNBC host Chris Matthews. On his May 29 NBC Sunday program, The Chris Matthews Show, he asked his typically liberal panel of guests: "Was it appropriate, overall, for the Justice Department to go after John Edwards with a criminal charge on campaign finances from the past campaign?" Time's Joe Klein pleaded: "Leave him [Edwards] alone. I mean why waste our effort on that when we haven't indicted a single banker after the crash of 2008?"

Moments later, Matthews turned to The Daily Beast's Andrew Sullivan and implied political motives in the case against Edwards: "Andrew, do you like the smell of this case?" Sullivan replied: "No I don't. And I agree entirely with my esteemed colleague Joe that we should focus on the people who plunged this country into [the crash of 2008]." Matthews agreed: "We have enough real crime out there without worrying about this stuff, that's my view."


Here is a full transcript of Myers' June 6 report on Today:

7:00AM ET TEASE:

MATT LAUER: And out and about. John Edwards' former mistress spotted in public with their now-3-year-old daughter as some critics blast the government's case against the former presidential candidate. Why they say what he did may not have been against the law.

7:13AM ET SEGMENT:

MEREDITH VIEIRA: There are growing questions over the indictment of former presidential candidate John Edwards for allegedly using campaign funds to hide an affair. Did the government overreach? NBC's senior investigative correspondent, Lisa Myers, has the latest. Good morning, Lisa.

[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: Bad Guy or Bad Case? Legal Experts Question Indictment of John Edwards]

LISA MYERS: Good morning, Meredith. Usually when a disgraced politician gets indicted, there is widespread applause. But not this time. Even some who find Edwards' behavior despicable question the strength of this case. John Edwards' former mistress, Rielle Hunter, has made no public comment about his indictment. But this weekend she was all smiles, posing with the little girl she shares with Edwards, 3-year-old Frances Quinn. These photos obtained by NBC News, a striking contrast to this one, as Edwards prepared to face the media throng after being charged with six felonies.

JOHN EDWARDS: I did not break the law.

MYERS: Edwards spent the weekend out of sight at his estate, focused, a spokesman said, on getting daughter Emma Claire ready for camp. A friend of Edwards' late wife Elizabeth told NBC that despite John's betrayal, nobody wanted him to face criminal charges. They worry about the couple's young children, Jack and Emma Claire. Local reaction is less forgiving.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: I have no trust in someone that continually lies.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: John Edwards has become a rather pathetic figure.

MYERS: Edwards is charged with soliciting and covering up almost a million dollars, provided by two wealthy donors. And used to keep Hunter, and later their child, hidden away in lavish homes and on private jets while he ran for president.

EDWARDS: Thank you! Thank you!

MYERS: Though the payments did not go to Edwards' campaign, the government alleges they amounted to unlawful campaign contributions because they were meant to keep his candidacy viable. Edwards' lawyers say the money was a gift from friends to hide the affair from his wife. The indictment has triggered unusual criticism of the Justice Department. From conservatives:

RICK HENDERSON [JOHN LOCKE FOUNDATION]: I think he's a reprehensible person, but not every scum or liar or reprehensible person is a criminal. And the federal government seems to be criminalizing bad behavior.                        

MYERS: And from campaign watchdogs:

MELANIE SLOAN [CITIZENS FOR RESPONSIBILITY AND ETHICS IN WASHINGTON]: I think that John Edwards is a lousy human being, but I think this is a really lousy and flimsy criminal case.

MYERS: A Washington Post editorial said, 'It is troubling that the Justice Department would choose to devote its scarce resources to pursuing this questionable case.' But others argue that prosecutors have more evidence than they reveal, and that these kind of campaign finance abuses need to be prosecuted.

JOE SINSHEIMER [POLITICAL CONSULTANT]: What the government says is, 'There has to be a line. John Edwards crossed that line. We believe it's criminal behavior.'

MYERS: Hunter's publicist said Edwards and Hunter now raise their daughter together and see each other quite often. A friend of Edwards told us that the Senator and his parents have a close relationship with Quinn and see her quite often. Meredith.

VIEIRA: Lisa Myers, thank you very much.

Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen is a News Analyst for MRC