Edwards admits to having an affair

August 09, 2008|By James Oliphant | James Oliphant,Chicago Tribune

WASHINGTON - Former Sen. John Edwards, whose bid for the Democratic presidential nomination was grounded in part on the tight bond he said he shared with his terminally ill wife, Elizabeth, admitted yesterday that he had an affair with a former campaign staffer that began two years ago.

Edwards' confession to ABC News that he had a relationship with Rielle Hunter, 42, confirmed rumors that had been largely confined to tabloids and the Internet, but had accelerated since the National Enquirer reported spying Edwards visiting Hunter at a Beverly Hills hotel last month.

However, Edwards denied fathering Hunter's 6-month-old daughter, and another Edwards campaign staff member says that he is the baby girl's father. Edwards said he has not taken a paternity test but said yesterday he is willing to do so.

Still, the admission permanently stains the reputation of a politician who built his career on down-home North Carolina values centered on his 31-year marriage to Elizabeth and their four children, and likely ends any ambition he could retain for public office.

When the Enquirer first reported last October a story about Edwards' tryst with Hunter, Edwards flatly denied it. "The story is false, it's completely untrue, it's ridiculous," Edwards told reporters then.

In a statement released yesterday, Edwards said, "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." He denied giving Hunter any money to support the child, another rumor that has been dogging the former candidate.

His wife said it wasn't easy to find out about Edwards' extramarital affair but after a what she called a "long and painful process," his family is supporting him.

In a statement provided to the Associated Press, Elizabeth Edwards calls her husband's affair a "terrible mistake." But she says the healing process was "oddly made somewhat easier" after her breast cancer returned in March 2007.

She said she was proud of the courage her husband showed despite his shame.

Edwards' former campaign manager, David Bonior, told the Associated Press yesterday that he was angry and disappointed upon hearing the news.

"Thousands of friends of the senator's and his supporters have put their faith and confidence in him and he's let them down," said Bonior, the former Michigan congressman. "They've been betrayed by his action."

Asked whether the affair would damage Edwards' future aspirations for in public service, Bonior replied: "You can't lie in politics and expect to have people's confidence."

In an interview with the Chicago Tribune last fall while he campaigned in New Hampshire, Edwards said that the next president must be "honest and sincere. We don't need the world's greatest politician as president. We need somebody we can trust."

He addressed doubts about his sincerity as a candidate, a worry for some since his days as a smiling, sweet-talking North Carolina trial lawyer. "I'm perfectly happy to answer that question in front of America and let them judge me," he said. "Am I phony or not? I think they'll say that I'm not."

Questions about Edwards' relationship with Hunter were raised privately as early as 2006, when his campaign hired the aspiring filmmaker to produce Internet documentaries despite her lack of experience. Hunter was eventually paid $114,000 for a handful of brief spots. She also accompanied Edwards on a trip to Africa.

Hunter apparently met Edwards that year in a New York City bar, where she pitched her idea for a series of "webisodes" based on the day-to-day life of the campaign. It was a time, Edwards said yesterday, when he was becoming increasingly "egocentric and narcissistic."

In an interview shown yesterday evening with ABC correspondent Bob Woodruff, Edwards said the affair began after Hunter was hired by the campaign and also while Elizabeth Edwards' cancer was in remission.

Elizabeth Edwards was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 2004, right at the time Edwards, then a senator from North Carolina, and Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts lost a Democratic bid to retake the White House. She was treated with chemotherapy and radiation. The news was another chapter in a tragic narrative that had seen the couple lose their teenage son, Wade, in a car crash in 1996, an event that led to the decision to have their two young children, Emma Claire and Jack, when Elizabeth was in her late 40s. An older daughter, Cate, is a Harvard Law School student.

In his interview with ABC, John Edwards said he told Elizabeth of the affair with Hunter in 2006, not long after it began. In February 2007, the couple announced that Elizabeth's cancer had aggressively returned and that she could not be cured.

"If you want to beat me up, feel free," Edwards said in his statement yesterday. "You cannot beat me up more than I have already beaten up myself. I have been stripped bare and will now work with everything I have to help my family and others who need my help."

James Oliphant writes for the Chicago Tribune.

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