Former presidential candidate John Edwards acknowledged Friday that he had an extramarital affair with one of his campaign workers, ending months of denials of what he had dismissed as “tabloid trash.”
Edwards, a former U.S. senator from North Carolina, went on ABC's “Nightline” to deliver a stunning admission: Yes, he had an affair with Rielle Hunter, a 44-year-old videographer, even as his wife battled breast cancer. No, he said, he did not father her child.
“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,” Edwards, the father of three children, said in a statement issued after ABC News reported his admission Friday afternoon on its Web site.
“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.”
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On “Nightline,” Edwards recounted his humble boyhood in North Carolina and then his quick rise in politics – “all of which fed a self-focus, an egotism, a narcissism that leads you to believe you can do whatever you want, there would be no consequences. ... I didn't think anyone would ever know about (the affair).”
He added: “I became something different than that young boy who grew up in North Carolina.”
The scandal likely ends Edwards' once-meteoric political career – in which he rose from a prominent Raleigh trial lawyer to the U.S. Senate, two serious presidential campaigns and a place on the 2004 ticket as a vice presidential candidate.
Wade Smith, a former law partner in Raleigh, said the scandal would likely “have a profound impact on his ability to go forward with a public life.”
“I hope that in the long run people will remember the good things he did,” Smith said.
The affair is likely to have little effect on the presidential race in North Carolina, where Edwards' influence had declined as he moved to the political left in his presidential campaigns. But his name had been mentioned as a possible pick for attorney general or even vice president in an Obama administration.
The acknowledgment tarnished Edwards' image as a clean-cut family man who stood by his wife through the loss of their son in an automobile accident in 1996, and during her continuing battle with breast cancer.
“One of the very strong pieces of John Edwards was his relationship with his wife,” said Wayne Lesperance, a professor at New England College in New Hampshire, where Edwards gave the commencement address last year.
“He was seen as the kind of husband that a lot of men would like to be in those situations and that a lot of wives would like to have,” Lesperance said. “He became a model husband in that circumstance.
“This is the kind of thing that is really gut-wrenching.”
Supporters reacted with sadness and anger.
Edwards' former campaign manager, former U.S. Rep. David Bonior of Michigan, said Edwards betrayed thousands of supporters' faith and confidence.
“What if he had won the nomination? What kind of mess would that have put this party in?” Bonior said in a phone interview.
Months of denials
Edwards denied that he had fathered Hunter's baby girl, Frances Quinn, who was born Feb. 27 in Santa Barbara, Calif. He said the timing of his affair in 2006 made it impossible for him to be the father. He offered to take tests to prove he was not the girl's father.
The National Enquirer, a supermarket tabloid, first reported the story in October.
At the time, Edwards angrily denied it: “It's completely untrue, ridiculous,” he said. “I've been in love with the same woman for 30-plus years and, as anybody who's been around us knows, she's an extraordinary human being, warm, loving, beautiful, sexy and as good a person as I have ever known. So the story's just false.”
The allegations resurfaced last month when the Enquirer reported that Edwards had visited Hunter in the Beverly Hilton hotel and later printed a grainy photograph it claimed was Edwards holding a baby. Edwards told ABC that he met with Hunter to keep the scandal from becoming public. He questioned the authenticity of the photograph showing him with the baby.
Andrew Young, a longtime Edwards aide, has said he fathered the child. Last year, Young and his wife were living in a house in Governors Club, a high-end Chapel Hill development. Hunter was living in the same development, according to the Enquirer. Hunter and the Youngs later moved to Santa Barbara, with the aid of an Edwards backer, Dallas lawyer Fred Baron.
Elizabeth Edwards ‘furious'
The affair took place more than a year after Elizabeth Edwards was diagnosed with breast cancer at the end of the 2004 election. Edwards said it ended before the couple announced in March 2007 that her cancer had returned.
Edwards told “Nightline” that his wife was angry when he told her in 2006 about the affair: “I think furious would be a good way to describe it.”
He called his wife “the finest human being I have ever known. ... There is a deep and abiding love that exists between Elizabeth and myself.”
Will the marriage survive? “Oh yeah,” he said. “Oh yeah.”
In 1999, when Edwards was a senator, he said of President Clinton and his affair with Monica Lewinsky:
“I think this president has shown a remarkable disrespect for his office, for the moral dimensions of leadership, for his friends, for his wife, for his precious daughter. It is breathtaking to me the level to which that disrespect has risen.”
In one of the videos that Hunter made of Edwards, he tells an Iowa crowd: “I want to see our party lead on the great moral issues – yes, me a Democrat using that word – the great moral issues that face our country. If we want to live in a moral, honest, just America and if we want to live in a moral and just world, we can't wait for somebody else to do it. We have to do it.”
‘They will … move past this'
Friends and supporters were sorting through their feelings on Friday.
Edwards' next-door neighbor Carol Jenkins, 61, said she didn't see the need for such fuss. Television crews and reporters swarmed outside of Edwards' Orange County home Friday afternoon.
“I don't know that it's really as newsworthy as everybody's making it out to be,” she said as a news helicopter buzzed over her home. “I mean, Russia invaded Georgia today.”
David Kirby, a friend and former law partner, said the affair was “out of character.”
“You can disapprove of conduct, but you don't abandon a person who is a wonderful and gifted person who has done a lot for others and (will) still do a lot for others in the future,” said Kirby, who has been a friend of the couple since law school. “I know both of them well enough to know they will somehow move past this.”