FORMER US presidential hopeful John Edwards was indicted yesterday for using nearly $1m (€680,000) in illegal campaign funds to help cover up an extramarital affair during his run for the White House.
In a spectacular fall from grace for the Democrat once expected to go far in American politics, Mr Edwards (57) was charged with six counts, including conspiracy, taking illegal campaign contributions and making false statements.
Flanked by five lawyers, Mr Edwards pleaded not guilty during a 30-minute hearing in US District Court in Winston-Salem hours after the indictment was filed.
The judge set a tentative trial date of July 11. After the hearing, Mr Edwards told reporters he was innocent.
"There's no question that I've done wrong and I will regret for the rest of my life the pain and the harm that I've caused to others," he said with his eldest daughter Cate at his side.
"But I did not break the law and I never, ever thought that I was breaking the law."
If Mr Edwards is convicted, each count carries a sentence of up to five years in prison and a $250,000 (€171,000) fine.
The indictment accused Mr Edwards of secretly getting the money to help cover up his affair with a campaign worker, Rielle Hunter, knowing that revelations of the liaison and her pregnancy would destroy his 2008 presidential bid.
The affair would undermine "Edwards' presentation of himself as a family man and by forcing his campaign to divert personnel and resources away from other campaign activities to respond to criticism and media scrutiny regarding the affair and pregnancy," the indictment said.
Edwards had big political ambitions, serving just one term in the US Senate before running for the White House in 2004.
While he failed to win enough support, he was picked to be the vice-presidential running-mate of Democratic senator John Kerry, but they failed to defeat Republican president George W Bush.
Mr Edwards ran again for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2008 but rumours swirled about the affair and he again failed to win.
Federal prosecutions of such senior politicians are fairly rare and legal experts were split over whether the money from the donors could be construed as campaign contributions.
The justice department is also looking at former US senator John Ensign, a Republican, over payments his parents made to a former staffer and his wife after the lawmaker had an affair with the man's wife.