For months, the national political press had been strangely muted about a November 2007 National Enquirer tabloid story that claimed to offer proof that former Democratic presidential candidate Senator John Edwards had been involved in an extramarital affair, as well as a more recent Enquirer story that claimed the affair may have resulted in the birth of an illegitimate child.
But on Friday (August 8), after months of denials, Edwards, admitted that he had carried on an affair with Rielle Hunter, though he has denied paternity of the child. The revelation came in an interview with ABC News, in which the former North Carolina senator confessed to lying during his run for president about the affair with the budding 44-year-old filmmaker.
Though he has not taken a paternity test, Edwards reportedly told ABC News that he knew he was not the father of Hunter's child, Frances Quinn, based on the timing of the baby's birth, February 27, 2008. He said the affair ended too soon for him to have been the father, though in a bizarre twist, one of Edwards' campaign aides, Andrew Young, has said that he is the father of the baby.
Late Friday afternoon, Edwards issued a statement that reads in part: "In 2006, I made a serious error in judgment and conducted myself in a way that was disloyal to my family and to my core beliefs. I recognized my mistake and I told my wife that I had a liaison with another woman, and I asked for her forgiveness. Although I was honest in every painful detail with my family, I did not tell the public. When a supermarket tabloid told a version of the story, I used the fact that the story contained many falsities to deny it. But being 99 percent honest is no longer enough.
"I was and am ashamed of my conduct and choices, and I had hoped that it would never become public. With my family, I took responsibility for my actions in 2006 and today I take full responsibility publicly. ... I only know that the apparent father has said publicly that he is the father of the baby. I also have not been engaged in any activity of any description that requested, agreed to or supported payments of any kind to the woman or to the apparent father of the baby."
The revelation of the covered-up affair is a huge blow to the political career of the charismatic, 54-year-old one-term senator and 2004 vice-presidential hopeful, who has spent much of the past four years working on poverty issues and, before dropping out in January, visiting the key states in the 2008 presidential election.
On Thursday, his hometown newspaper, the Charlotte Observer, quoted several prominent local politicians urging Edwards to more vehemently confront the Enquirer allegations or else risk losing a prominent speaking slot at the upcoming Democratic National Convention. That prime-time spot now seems entirely out of reach, and an analyst on CNN speculated that the revelation of the deceit could also jeopardize Edwards' chances of getting a position in a Democratic White House should Senator Barack Obama win in November — or even of continuing his political career at all.
According to CNN, Edwards' wife, Elizabeth Edwards — who has been very ill with a recurrence of cancer — became aware of the affair in 2006. When first confronted with the story following an October 2007 report in the tabloid, Edwards and his campaign staff strongly denied it, with Edwards telling reporters at the time, "The story is false, it's completely untrue, it's ridiculous." The Edwardses have been married since 1977 and have two young daughters and a son. A fourth child, Wade, died at age 16 in a car accident.
ABC reported that according to Hunter's friends, she and Edwards met at a New York bar in 2006 and she pitched him on the idea of making a film about his campaign and he agreed, later paying her $114,000 to direct campaign Web site documentaries, despite her lack of experience behind the camera. Edwards, named the "sexiest politician alive" by People magazine in 2000, told the network that the affair began during his campaign for president after she was hired and began traveling with the candidate around the country and to Africa.
Edwards said that his wife — who vowed to campaign alongside her husband last year despite a serious diagnosis of an incurable form of cancer — was in remission from the disease when he began the affair with Hunter. While Edwards is certainly not the first politician to be caught lying about an extramarital affair, the long-running deceit about his liaison has set the former senator up for particular scorn from the Washington press corps, who pounced on the story Friday of a politician who had often made his family a big part of his campaigns over the years and who had held his wife up as an example of a strong, intelligent partner in his public endeavors.
The Enquirer reported recently that Edwards had visited Hunter at the Beverly Hills Hilton last month, and Edwards admitted to ABC News that the report was true and that his wife had not known about the meeting. The Enquirer reported that Edwards spent five hours in Hunter's room that day, and when confronted by the tabloid's staffers at the hotel after trying to leave through a basement exit, he ran into a public bathroom and tried to hide and block their entrance into the rest room with his body.
Once pregnant, Hunter lived under a series of assumed names in a number of expensive homes in North Carolina and Santa Barbara, California, according to ABC. Edwards denied paying Hunter any money to keep her from taking their affair public but told ABC it's possible some of his friends or supporters may have made payments to her without telling him.