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Edwards pleads not guilty to finance charges in NC

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WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (AP) -- Former presidential hopeful John Edwards pleaded not guilty today to federal charges that he solicited and secretly spent more than $925,000 to hide his mistress and their baby from the public at the height of his 2008 White House campaign.

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In a 30-second statement to dozens of reporters and television news cameras that surrounded him outside the courthouse, he said he never thought he was breaking the law.

"There is no question that I have done wrong," he said. "And I take full responsibility for having done wrong. And I will regret for the rest of my life the pain and the harm that I have caused to others. But I did not break the law."

Edwards did not have to post bond, but he had to surrender his passport and is not allowed to leave the continental U.S. He also can't have contact with one of the wealthy benefactors who gave him money that prosecutors say was used to hide the affair.

The indictment contained six felony counts, including conspiracy, four counts of receiving illegal campaign contributions and one count of false statements for keeping the spending off the campaign's public finance reports.

It said the payments made with money from two wealthy supporters were a scheme to protect Edwards' presidential ambitions.

"A centerpiece of Edwards' candidacy was his public image as a devoted family man," the indictment said. "Edwards knew that public revelation of the affair and the pregnancy would destroy his candidacy.

Prosecutors said the spending was illegal because the 2004 Democratic vice presidential nominee should have reported it on public campaign finance filings and because it exceeded the $2,300 limit per person for campaign contributions.

Edwards' lawyer, Gregory Craig, said there's no way that anyone, including Edwards, would have known that the payments should be treated as campaign contributions.

"This is an unprecedented prosecution," he said at the courthouse. "He has broken no law and we will defend this case vigorously."

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