FILE - In this June 3, 2011 file photo, John Edwards leaves the Federal Building in Winston-Salem, N.C.(AP Photo/Chuck Burton, File)
(CBS News) Jury selection begins Thursday in the criminal trial of former presidential candidate John Edwards, accused of breaking campaign finance laws to hide an extramarital affair.
The trial is unprecedented, and Edwards and his lawyers say it's politically motivated.
Experts say the reason this case is so unusual is it's the first time the Department of Justice is prosecuting someone - a former presidential candidate, to boot - over a cover-up involving his pregnant mistress and the money used to hide her existence from his wife and from the public.
Edwards' affair took him from a popular presidential hopeful to a man facing criminal charges, who if convicted, could end up in jail. So he's going into his trial fighting.
Edwards said in an interview last October, "After all these years, I finally get my day in court and people get to hear my side of this and what actually happened."
Last June, a federal grand jury indicted the former Democratic senator for accepting nearly $1 million, then using the money to hide his pregnant mistress, Rielle Hunter, in lavish accommodations.
The money came from two donors, neither of whom will testify at trial: Edwards' friend and former campaign finance manager Fred Baron, now deceased, and reclusive 101-year-old billionaire Rachel "Bunny" Mellon, who is too frail to travel.
Attorney Jan Baran, who specializes in election law, said, "The case is unusual because it is first time the Department of Justice has prosecuted somebody on the allegation that they raised and helped spend some money to basically hide a mistress and a child."
At issue is whether the money they supplied qualifies as campaign contributions, as the government alleges, or, as Edwards contends, as personal gifts.
Baran said, "The issue is whether the reason for that was to prevent personal embarrassment and perhaps keep this information away from Mrs. Edwards, or whether this was all calculated to help him in his campaign."
And Baran says prosecutors must prove Edwards knew using the money was improper under campaign finance laws, something Edwards adamantly denies. He has said, "I did not break the law and I never, ever thought I was breaking the law."
The government's key witness is expected to be Edwards' former campaign aide, Andrew Young, the man who initially claimed to be the father of Hunter's baby to protect his boss, Edwards.
Watch Anna Werner's full report in the video below.
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