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Judge rules out testimony on FEC audit that cleared money for John Edwards' mistress

Updated at 5:50 p.m. ET : Jurors in the campaign finance trial of former Sen. John Edwards won't hear about a federal audit that concluded that almost $1 million used to help conceal his affair with Rielle Hunter did not amount to campaign contributions subject to federal regulation, the judge ruled Monday.

Edwards, 58, a former U.S. senator from North Carolina and the Democratic vice presidential nominee in 2004, is on trial in U.S. District Court in Greensboro, N.C., where he is charged with six felony counts of accepting about $1 million in illegal and unreported campaign donations from two wealthy supporters during his 2008 presidential campaign.

The ruling came after prosecutors objected to testimony from Lora Haggard, who, as the campaign's chief financial officer, was in charge of compliance with FEC regulations. Haggard said the FEC had declared that it didn't consider the money to be campaign contributions.

Haggard testified that she didn't even bother to amend campaign filings to report the payments because the money wasn't used to urge the public to vote for Edwards.

After a long discussion with lawyers for both sides — outside the presence of the jury — U.S. District Judge Catherine Eagles ruled that evidence about the FEC audit was inadmissible because it couldn't be determined exactly what the FEC knew or was told at the time.

Edwards' lawyers had been ready to call Scott Thomas, a former chairman of the FEC, who was to have testified about the audit of Edwards' 2008 campaign. His testimony would have been crucial to the defense, said Hampton Dellinger, a legal analyst for NBC News and

That's because "it would be compelling evidence that, no matter what else you think about John Edwards, there is no reason for him to think that the coverup of the affair was an election law crime," Dellinger said before the ruling was announced.

After the ruling, the defense moved on, calling Harrison Hickman, Edwards' campaign pollster, who strongly denied prosecutors' contention that Edwards was the driving force behind the coverup.

Hickman testified that it was the idea of the late Fred Baron — the campaign's finance chief and one of the two donors who provided the money — to hide Hunter from the public. 

Former Edwards aide Andrew Young testified earlier in the trial that Edwards knew the money was intended to support Hunter in seclusion, but Hickman called Young "a liar."

It remained unknown Monday whether Edwards will testify in his own defense or whether his attorneys will call Hunter to the stand — something the prosecution chose not to do. But the defense announced late Monday that Edwards' daughter Cate — who fled the courtroom in tears at one point during the prosecution's case — could testify as early as Tuesday.

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