- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 25, 2011

RALEIGH, N.C. — John Edwards could be indicted within days in a federal investigation into whether the former presidential candidate illegally used money from some of his political backers to hide his extramarital affair and out-of-wedlock child, a person familiar with the case said Wednesday.

It was not immediately clear what charges prosecutors planned to bring. The 57-year-old former North Carolina senator could strike a plea bargain to avoid indictment, said the person, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the case’s sensitivity.

Federal authorities have spent more than two years investigating the Democrat’s campaign finances, focusing heavily on money from wealthy supporters that allegedly went to keep mistress Rielle Hunter and her baby in hiding in 2007 and 2008 to protect Mr. Edwards‘ White House campaign from a career-ending scandal.

Prosecutors, in an investigation overseen by Justice Department officials in Washington, have been looking at whether those funds should have been reported as campaign contributions since they arguably aided his presidential bid.

The investigation has centered largely on allegations leveled by former Edwards campaign aide Andrew Young, who as the scandal began to unfold in 2007, publicly claimed to be the baby’s father to protect the career of his boss.

Mr. Young has said that two wealthy Edwards supporters supplied the money and the private jet that Mr. Young used to keep Miss Hunter away from the news media, first in North Carolina, then in Colorado, and finally at a home in California.

An Edwards spokeswoman did not immediately return a message seeking comment Wednesday, though his attorneys have said they are confident he did not violate campaign finance laws.

George Holding, the U.S. attorney in Raleigh, declined to comment. Mr. Holding was appointed by President George W. Bush but has remained on the job because North Carolina’s senators asked President Obama to let him finish the Edwards probe.

Miss Hunter had been hired to shoot video of Mr. Edwards — the 2004 vice-presidential nominee as he prepared for his second White House bid. Their child was born in February 2008, a month after he dropped out of the race.

Mr. Edwards initially denied having an affair with Miss Hunter but eventually admitted to it in the summer of 2008. He also denied being the father of her child before finally confessing last year. His wife, Elizabeth, died of cancer in December.

Mr. Edwards, who made his millions as a trial lawyer, could lose his law license if he enters a guilty plea.

Mr. Young has said that Mr. Edwards agreed in 2007 to solicit money directly from Rachel “Bunny” Mellon, the 100-year-old widow of banking heir Paul Mellon. Mr. Young has said he received hundreds of thousands of dollars in checks from Mrs. Mellon for his use and Miss Hunter‘s, with some of the checks hidden in boxes of chocolate.

Mrs. Mellon’s attorney has said she didn’t know where the money was going but intended it as a personal gift.

Investigators also looked at money spent by Mr. Edwards‘ former campaign finance chairman, Fred Baron, who died in 2008. He said he helped Mr. Young and Miss Hunter move across the country. Mr. Baron said that Mr. Edwards wasn’t aware of the aid, but Mr. Young said in a book that Mr. Edwards knew about Mr. Baron’s money.

Mr. Young, Miss Hunter, Mr. Baron’s wife and a cast of other former Edwards aides and supporters have been called to testify before a federal grand jury or have been interviewed by investigators.