John Edwards is likely to face federal charges

An intense, behind-the-scenes legal struggle over whether John Edwards can be charged with a crime has come to an end, and Edwards is the loser.

Federal prosecutors in Washington decided this week they can seek an indictment against Edwards, the former North Carolina senator and two-time Democratic presidential candidate, according to multiple sources involved in the case. The sources spoke to The News & Observer on condition they not be identified.

The decision follows two years of investigation in the broad probe of Edwards' campaign and the use of money for his mistress, Rielle Hunter.

Justice Department officials, members of Edwards' legal team and Edwards all declined public comment or could not be reached about the decision-making in the investigation.

Gregory Craig, one of Edwards' lawyers, said Wednesday the government has wasted millions pursuing Edwards.

"John Edwards has done wrong in his life - and he knows it better than anyone - but he did not break the law," Craig said. "The government's theory is wrong on the facts and wrong on the law."

A grand jury could begin hearing information as soon as Tuesday from prosecutors seeking an indictment. The grand jury work could last several days. Grand jury meetings are secret, but indictments are public once they are issued. It would be rare for prosecutors to seek an indictment and not secure one.

But an indictment is not a certainty.

Edwards could decide to make a deal, plead guilty to a crime and end the probe. Any plea deal would require that Edwards admit to a felony, the sources said.

A plea would avoid a trial and save Edwards millions in legal bills. Now a single parent with young children because of the death of his wife, Elizabeth, Edwards, by taking a deal, might be spared the possibility of going to prison.

Still, Edwards, one of North Carolina's most successful trial lawyers, has taken risks in the courtroom when stakes are high. He won tens of millions in jury verdicts after turning down smaller settlement offers.

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