Today’s anticipated indictment of former President Trump has prompted gleeful cheers among many in the left-wing media, but a similar indictment of former Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards 12 years ago was jeered at the time as an “overreach” that could wind up being an “embarrassment” for the Justice Department.
“This looks like one of those things you read about in Third World countries,” MSNBC’s Chris Matthews snorted on Hardball a few hours after the June 3, 2011 indictment of Edwards. “It just looks like revenge against... somebody that lost an election.”
In fact, the government’s case was a flop — the jury didn’t convict Edwards on any of the charges, which all stemmed from the theory that hush money paid to his former mistress amounted to an illegal campaign contribution to his 2008 presidential campaign (sound familiar?). Edwards was found “not guilty” of one charge, with a mistrial declared on the other five.
And, as law professor Jonathan Turley pointed out on FNC’s Special Report with Bret Baier on Friday, the anticipated Trump indictment appears even weaker: “The John Edwards’ case was a stronger case, and the Department of Justice put everything it had on that case, and it didn’t work out. That’s one of the reasons they [federal prosecutors] likely passed” on pursuing the case against Trump a few years ago.
Despite the fact that the Edwards’ charges were brought by federal prosecutors, not a local D.A. like Alvin Bragg, there was plenty of criticism from the media that it was a frivolous waste. “Leave him alone,” Time’s Joe Klein complained on the May 29, 2011 edition of The Chris Matthews Show, a few days before the indictment was filed. “I mean why waste our effort on that when we haven’t indicted a single banker after the crash of 2008?”
“I agree entirely with my esteemed colleague Joe that we should focus on the people who plunged this country into [the crash of 2008],” the Daily Beast’s Andrew Sullivan concurred.
Host Chris Matthews made it unanimous: “We have enough real crime out there without worrying about this stuff, that’s my view.”
When the indictment became official on Friday, June 3, there wasn’t much personal sympathy for the former North Carolina Senator. On Good Morning America, ABC’s Robin Roberts called it “one of the greatest political downfalls ever,” while that evening on NBC Nightly News, correspondent Lisa Myers termed it “a sordid story of deception and betrayal.”
But Myers also cautioned: “Even if most of the facts prove true, there already is controversy over whether it all amounts to a federal crime.”
The Washington Post editorialized: “At least as presented in the indictment, there is scant evidence that Mr. Edwards understood the payments to be campaign contributions....It is troubling that the Justice Department would choose to devote its scarce resources to pursuing this questionable case.”
That night, Matthews likened the case to something out of the Third World: “This looks like one of those things you read about in Third World countries or in India or somewhere or Pakistan, where they get someone who’s been out of office a couple of years, get them while they’re down, hit them with some incredible charge with campaign funding that nobody’s ever heard of before and put them away for a while. It just looks like revenge against the party, against somebody that lost an election.”
The June 4, 2011 New York Times included a derisive critique from activist Melanie Sloan, a media favorite: “‘I think this is a silly case,’' said Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, an advocacy group....‘I think this is going to be an embarrassment’ for the Department of Justice, she said.”
“There are growing questions tonight over whether the government overreached in its indictment of former presidential candidate John Edwards,” anchor Lester Holt intoned on the June 4 Nightly News. The next day, on ABC’s This Week, host Christiane Amanpour pointed out how “there are people who are saying that this indictment is very questionable and based on very questionable legalities.”
By Monday’s (June 6) Today show, the Edwards scandal seemed to be more about the government’s prosecution than the politician’s actions. Co-host Matt Lauer touted at the top: “Critics blast the government’s case against the former presidential candidate. Why they say what he did may not have been against the law.”
Later in the show, Meredith Vieira 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?” NBC’s on-screen headline: “Bad Guy or Bad Case?; Legal Experts Question Indictment of John Edwards.”
As it turned out, the media were right to doubt what turned out to be a flimsy case against a one-time Democratic darling. Fast forward to today: It’s no secret that the media have long despised Donald Trump. The question is, will they be able to look past their emotions to focus on the actual merits of Alvin Bragg’s case against the 2024 GOP frontrunner?