How much did John Edwards know?

As the ABC11 Eyewitness News I-Team was the first to report last week, the Justice Department has given the green light for Edwards to face criminal charges in connection with a campaign finance investigation.

"If John Edwards did know about this, if John Edwards was involved in this, involved in the money going to his mistress, involved with the money going to his aide, this could be a major weapon that the prosecution can use against him," said Dave Levinthal, Center for Responsive Politics in Washington. "In that John Edwards, not only was John Edwards just a bystander, or John Edwards didn't even know about this, but was instrumental in this money being diverted to the people that it was diverted to."

For more than two years, a Raleigh federal grand jury has been investigating Edwards. The Justice Department has reviewed the evidence gathered against the former senator and has decided the case is strong enough for him to face charges.

He could be indicted at any time.

At the heart of the case is $1 million in donations from heiress Bunny Mellon and Texas lawyer Fred Baron. The money allegedly was used to keep Hunter in hiding.

Levinthal says a jury may have to decide if the money was intended to further Edwards's presidential ambitions.

The I-Team asked Levinthal if the intent of the donor matters, if the donor intended the money to be a gift? Does that let Edwards off the hook?

"It probably won't let him off the hook, if somebody is making a campaign donation to a candidate regardless of what the intent is," Levinthal explained.

The Edwards legal team says Edwards did not break the law and the government's theory is wrong on the facts and the law.

Levinthal believes the Justice Department has a different view.

"If the federal government didn't think that it had a case, it certainly wouldn't have invested this much time, these many resources this much effort into pursuing it," he added.

If the case goes to trial, Edwards could go to federal prison. First, he would have to be indicted and then convicted at trial.

A source familiar with the case tells the I-Team Edwards is aware of the pending indictment and knows it could come at any time.

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