“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 was and am ashamed of my conduct and choices, and I had hoped that it would never become public.”
Those were the words of former Senator John Edwards in a statement released on August 8, 2008. In that statement, and in a subsequent interview on ABC’s “Nightline”, Mr. Edwards, who ran his campaign partly on a platform of morality and family values, publicly acknowledged having an affair in 2006 with Rielle Hunter, a film-maker who filmed a series of Webisodes - Web-based documentary shorts intended to show Mr. Edwards candidly - for Mr. Edwards before he officially announced his 2008 bid for the presidency. In a story that is unfolding like an episode of the Jerry Springer Show, John Edwards went on to deny fathering Ms. Hunter’s daughter, Frances Quinn Hunter, who was born on February 27, 2008 and whose birth certificate does not list a father.
“I am and have been willing to take any test necessary to establish the fact that I am not the father of any baby, and I am truly hopeful that a test will be done so this fact can be definitively established. I only know that the apparent father [Andrew Young, a former campaign aid of Edwards and also a married man with children] 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.”
While Mr. Edwards has denied involvement in any payoffs to Ms. Hunter, some questionable payments to Ms. Hunter over the last two years are raising eyebrows. In September 2007, while researching an article about new technology and politics, the Huffington Post’s Sam Stein uncovered widespread secretiveness about the Webisodes and discovered that Edwards’ leadership PAC, the One America Committee, made six payments totaling $100,000.00 to Midline Groove Productions, Ms. Hunter’s film company, in 2006. While those sums were presumably payment for Ms. Hunter’s Webisode productions and therefore seemingly innocuous, the PAC followed those payments with two smaller payments totaling $14,461.79, the last of which was on April 1, 2007, months after the last of the Webisodes was completed. Moreover, given that Mr. Edwards was admittedly having an affair with Ms. Hunter in 2006, any payments to her production company are questionable.
On Friday, Fred Baron, who chaired Mr. Edwards’ presidential campaign finance committee in 2004 and 2008, admitted to the Dallas Morning News that he had paid relocation expenses for Ms. Hunter and Andrew Young, but explained that it was simply a move to shield Ms. Hunter from tabloids, who had been increasingly hounding her. “The money was purely and simply to get them out of North Carolina and to get them into a stable place.” Mr. Baron said, going on to insist that he used his own money, not money from the Edwards campaign. Although he declined to disclose how much money he provided, Mr. Baron’s “relocation assistance” helped Ms. Hunter and Mr. Young, respectively, move to $3 and $4 million homes in Santa Barbara, CA. As an aside, Mr. Baron is now raising money for Barack Obama. Look for mainstream media and the McCain campaign to spin this into a story about Mr. Obama’s credibility in the coming days.
These payments, particularly the one by Mr. Baron, raise serious questions about whether there was a payoff to Ms. Hunter in exchange for her silence and about whether Mr. Edwards was aware of any such payoff. Edwards denies having any knowledge of Mr. Baron’s recent payments to Ms. Hunter. Mr. Baron is backing him up. “I made a decision on my own, without talking to Edwards or anybody, to try to help them move to a community to try to get away from those folks,” Mr. Baron said. Nevertheless, whether any payoff - especially any payoff using public funds - was made to Ms. Hunter, and whether Mr. Edwards was aware of or involved in any such payoff, will come under increasing scrutiny in the coming days.
Edwards’ affair was first reported by the National Enquirer in October, 2007. From that time to the present, Mr. Edwards’ repeatedly dodged questions and at times lied about the affair. When asked to comment on reports of the affairs last year, Mr. Edwards responded “[i]t’s completely untrue, ridiculous. 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.” Mr. Edwards has also called the accounts “tabloid trash.” Last night, Mr. Edwards finally admitted the truthfulness of an Enquirer report that he’d visited Ms. Hunter last month at the Beverly Hilton in Los Angeles. According to Mr. Edwards, his visit, which lasted five hours and occurred without his wife’s knowledge, was an attempt to persuade Ms. Hunter not to go public with the affair.
After breaking his marriage vows, lying about it in public and even attempting to cover the affair up as late as a few weeks ago, the public’s ability to trust John Edwards as a public servant is seriously in doubt. David E. Bonier, the former Michigan congressman who managed Edwards’ white house campaign, said in a statement that “[t]housands of friends of the senator’s and his supporters have put their faith and confidence in him, and he’s let them down.” Bonier’s statement went on to say that Edwards’ supporters have “been betrayed by his action.” Responding to a question from the A.P. about whether the affair would ruin Edwards’ political career, Bonier basically declared Edwards’ career over and replied “You can’t lie in politics and expect to have people’s confidence.” While his political future is in doubt, there is no doubt about Edwards’ role at the upcoming Democratic National Convention. During an interview with Bob Schieffer on the CBS Evening News, Edwards stated that he would not attend the Convention.
Mr. Edwards’ ended his written statement by admitting that “sorry” could never satisfy his family and his supporters. He then offered this explanation: “In the course of several campaigns, I started to believe that I was special and became increasingly egocentric and narcissistic.” During his “Nightline” interview, Edwards expanded on that statement by saying that his rise from “a small town boy in North Carolina” who “came from nothing” to a successful lawyer, U.S. senator and national public figure “fed a self-focus, an egotism, a narcissism that leads you to believe that you can do whatever you want.” Now, all Edwards can do is watch on the sidelines as the fruits of his narcissism destroy his political career, cause untold stress on his dying wife, and do unmeasurable harm to his family.