- - Thursday, March 15, 2012

GREENSBORO — Former presidential candidate John Edwards got his wish Thursday and is changing his defense team ahead of his criminal trial on charges of campaign finance violations, hiring the same attorneys who once helped his mistress in a lawsuit over the couple’s alleged sex tape.

The former U.S. senator from North Carolina testified under oath that he understood a jury might puzzle over the fact that lawyers Alan Duncan and Allison Van Laningham would be representing him after previously representing his mistress, Rielle Hunter.

Mr. Edwards faces charges that he broke federal campaign finance laws, allegedly using nearly $1 million from two wealthy donors to hide the pregnant mistress and prevent a scandal from erupting as he campaigned for the White House in 2008. He has pleaded not guilty.

U.S. District Court Judge Catherine C. Eagles told Mr. Edwards that shaking up his defense team was likely causing him stress, something the former senator’s doctor said, in a private letter to the judge, Mr. Edwards should avoid to protect his health. The judge asked Mr. Edwards whether he was taking any narcotics or other medications that might fog his judgment before trial.

FLORIDA

Unions to hold own political convention

ORLANDO — Union leaders upset that this summer’s Democratic National Convention will be held in right-to-work North Carolina plan to stage their own political gathering in a more union-friendly state.

Labor officials say the idea of holding a separate “labor summit” a few weeks ahead of the convention won wide support Wednesday at the AFL-CIO’s annual winter meeting.

Most unions are still planning to attend the Charlotte convention, but more than a dozen trade unions are boycotting it. They’re angry that Charlotte has no union hotels and North Carolina is the least unionized state in the nation. Some labor leaders consider the choice an affront to a core Democratic constituency.

Ed Hill, president of the Electrical Workers union, said members of Congress, governors and other elected officials would all be invited to attend the labor summit in a union-friendly city, possibly Philadelphia. The gathering would be held three or four weeks before the Democratic National Convention, which is set to begin Sept. 3.

“We’re going to talk about labor issues and how we can get our friends in the political arena to talk about labor issues,” Mr. Hill said.

Mr. Hill said unions still strongly support President Obama and don’t intend their summit to upstage his nominating convention. Mr. Hill’s union is among those not going to North Carolina convention.

SENATE

Democrats raise violence against women act

Senate Democrats are daring Republicans to vote against a bill that would protect women from violence, in the latest round of election-year battles for female voters.

Democrats want to renew the 1994 Violence Against Women Act, which expired last year, and add immigrants, gays and American Indians to the covered groups. Republicans who widely supported the law’s renewal in the past say they object to some of the additions.

The timing of the debate fits neatly into the Democrats’ overarching 2012 campaign theme about a Republican “war on women.”

Republicans criticized Democrats for making a scene Thursday on the Senate floor without having so much as scheduled a vote.

The bill has 58 co-sponsors, including five Republicans. Debate could begin next week.

MISSOURI

Paul says he’s noncommittal about backing Romney

COLUMBIA — Republican candidate Ron Paul says he’s noncommittal about backing Mitt Romney if Mr. Romney becomes the party’s presidential nominee.

The Texas congressman says Mr. Romney is a friend but that they’d have to talk about the kind of foreign policy Mr. Romney would pursue before he makes a decision.

Mr. Paul spoke Thursday in Columbia, where he held a rally ahead of that state’s presidential caucuses Saturday.

Mr. Paul trails Mr. Romney, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich in the GOP nominating contest.

CAMPAIGN

Democrats ride Romney’s Planned Parenthood remark

A coordinated attack by Democrats on Mitt Romney’s plan to “get rid of” Planned Parenthood to help balance the federal budget is part of a larger campaign to ensure that Romney and other Republicans lose credibility with female voters.

The Romney campaign contends that the remark has been taken out of context.

Yet even the debate over what Mr. Romney meant or didn’t mean underscores the political peril he faces as the GOP nomination fight rages on.

Facing continued conservative skepticism, Mr. Romney has been pushed further to the right to appeal to his party’s right flank.

In doing so, he risks alienating key constituencies — women and independents, among them — while drawing unwanted attention to his inconsistent positions on social issues.

COLORADO

Blagojevich reports to federal prison

LITTLETON — Convicted former Illinois Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich walked into a federal prison in Colorado to begin a 14-year sentence for corruption Thursday, the latest chapter in the downfall of a charismatic politician that seemed more like a bizarre reality TV show than a legal battle.

With helicopters and TV news crews broadcasting his every move, Blagojevich stepped out of a black SUV and walked into the Federal Correctional Institution Englewood in suburban Denver just before noon.

Blagojevich — Illinois’ second ex-governor now in prison for corruption — was convicted on 18 counts, including charges of trying to sell or trade President Obama’s vacated U.S. Senate seat.

“I’m leaving with a heavy heart, a clear conscience and I have high, high hopes for the future,” Blagojevich told reporters and well-wishers as he left his Chicago home early Thursday for his flight to Denver.

Along with his attorneys, the 55-year-old Democrat spent about an hour driving around the minimum-security facility once arriving in Littleton, near Denver, stopping for lunch and waving to onlookers before relinquishing his freedom.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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