Disgraced two-time Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards is finally getting his day in court. Edwards, the Democrats' vice presidential nominee in 2004, went on trial in North Carolina Monday for allegedly using nearly $1 million in unreported campaign contributions to cover up an affair with his one-time campaign videographer, Rielle Hunter. Edwards' lawyers say he didn't break campaign finance laws because he used the money to hide the affair to avoid humiliating his cancer-stricken wife, the late Elizabeth Edwards, not to further his 2008 bid for the presidency. If convicted, Edwards could face up to 30 years in prison and $1.5 million in fines. How will this high-profile case unfold? Here, four important questions:
1. Will Edwards take the stand?
"Statistically, most defendants don't take the stand," says CBS News legal analyst Jack Ford. But Edwards isn't most defendants. The Democrat made a fortune as a successful trial attorney, and he probably believes he's "the best lawyer in the courtroom." The case may come down to a credibility contest between Edwards, who insists he did nothing illegal, and the prosecution's star witness, former Edwards aide Andrew Young, who says the candidate tried to cover up the affair using money from big donors to keep the scandal from sinking his campaign.
2. Are election officials going to testify?
Two former chairmen of the Federal Elections Commission, Robert Lenhard and Scott E. Thomas, are ready to tell the court that what Edwards did "does not violate civil law, much less criminal," says Hampton Dellinger at MSNBC. Prosecutors have asked U.S. District Judge Catherine Eagles to keep Lenhard and Thomas from testifying, which she has declined to do. "Whether the commissioners ultimately testify, and to what extent they are permitted to opine," could have a profound effect on the outcome of the case.
3. What will this mean for campaign finance law?
"Few candidates have mistresses," says Josh Gerstein at Politico, but they all have personal expenses. "And the verdict in this trial could "radically change how those are handled." Arguably, if the court buys the prosecution's theory that the money to fix Edwards' personal entanglements was actually meant to further his campaign, future candidates might be justified in using campaign donations to pay for all kinds of personal expenses, including housing and meals for their family members.
4. Will Edwards finally be forgiven?
No matter how the trial turns out, it "amounts to one last chance for the public to express its disdain" for Edwards, says Chris Cillizza at The Washington Post. Many Americans believed in Edwards — voted for him, donated to his campaign — so they took it as a personal betrayal when he admitted that he had "cheated on his terminally ill wife, lied about it, fathered a child out of wedlock, [and] lied about it," before finally coming clean. The courtroom drama could be a "cathartic moment" for Edwards' former fans. If so, it might also mark the end of his downfall, and the beginning of his quest for "redemption or, at least, forgiveness."