Sometime in the winter of 2006, John Edwards, then not in public office, had a meeting at a hotel bar in midtown New York. Sitting in that same restaurant at the same time was Rielle Hunter, a former yoga instructor who had become actively involved in somewhat fringy spiritual escapades. The two did not meet then and there, though Hunter noticed Edwards from across the room. Rather, their initial interaction occurred outside the hotel, when Hunter approached the former Senator on the sidewalk and showered him with flattery.
And, as fate would have it, an affair was started. Edwards would see Hunter for at least a year. How much of that time they were romantically engaged remains a mystery. But from then until this Friday, the-Senator-turned-presidential candidate kept it a secret. Not from his family, which, he admitted, became aware of the issue the same year that it started; but from the public, the media, and by all indications his own campaign staff.
The secret has now officially come to an end. Edwards copped to the extramarital affair during an interview on ABC this Friday - the nadir of a political career that, at one point in time, seemed pointed towards the White House. By then, the peculiarities of his relationship with Hunter had been much discussed. While mainstream press attention was scant, the National Enquirer and a select number of online sites - most prominently Mickey Kaus at Slate - had been poring over the issue for months.
The Huffington Post had too. Back in September 2007, we reported that the videos, which Hunter had been paid to produce for Edwards' One America Committee, had gone mysteriously missing. Perhaps even more curious: no one seemed to claim ownership. Staffers for Edwards, who by then was in the throes of the primary, said they had no access to the film: four shorts on the Senator's efforts to promote the eradication of poverty. Meanwhile, the film company, Midline Groove Productions, said the videos were the product of the campaign. Not only that, they were for some reason prohibited from even discussing the content.
The videos, it turned out, told a bit more than it first seemed. On several occasions one could detect flirting between Hunter and Edwards, including blatant shots of his crotch and rear end. In one exchange the Senator admits to having gone shoe shopping with Hunter as he smiles at the camera (held by her).
Each several minutes in length, the political films were hardly traditional; perhaps because Hunter had zero history in the industry. In a follow up story, the Huffington Post unearthed Hunter's website - erased from the web shortly after Edwards launched his presidential campaign - in which it was revealed that she had never made films before. Moreover, she had no current Internet presence, a curious anonymity from someone who had just recently scored a great gig following around a prominent presidential candidate.
It turned out Hunter's documentaries were a sham. Months after she met the Senator at that midtown hotel, the two needed an excuse to continue being around each other. The suggestion was made -- by whom, it's not known -- to make documentaries of the Senator's work for the One America Committee. Hunter would get paid and Edwards would have an excuse for keeping her around. Six months and $114,000 later, the deed was done.
By the time the last check was written to Hunter, in early April 2007, Edwards' wife Elizabeth already knew. According to a source (completely unconfirmed) there was one evening in which she called up a staffer working on the films in an effort to get Hunter's phone number.
John Edwards, meanwhile, launched his presidential campaign on January 3, 2007. His candidacy was based largely on the same tenets of the One America Committee: championing in the causes of the poor and the working class. But the Senator did not shy away from addressing his own story. And, in a March 27 interview with Katie Couric he clearly let it be known that one's personal life was fair game in a presidential run.
"I think every single candidate for president, Republican and Democratic have lives, personal lives, that indicate something about what kind of human being they are. And I think it is a fair evaluation for America to engage in, to look at, what kind of human beings each of us are, and what kind of president we'd make."
The quote came four days after Elizabeth Edwards announced that her cancer had returned and that it was treatable but not curable.
Sometime in May, Hunter was impregnated, though who the father is remains subject of debate. Edwards, in his interview with ABC News this Friday, said the child was not his and was willing to take a paternity test to prove it. And indeed, during the contemporary reporting of the story a loyalist to the Senator, Andrew Young, took responsibility.
But allegations of Young's involvement seemed dubious both when they first surfaced and now. Soon after the National Enquirer published its story on Hunter's pregnancy, rumors began spreading from North Carolina - where Young continued to live with his wife and three children - that Mrs. Young was non-too-pleased that her husband had to fall on the sword. Moreover, she was talking about her displeasure to her friends in the local hair salon.
Nothing ever came of that. But aspects of the Hunter-Edwards affair were, well before then, slowly leaking out in the media. On August 27, 2007, the New York Post's "Page Six" ran the following blind item: "WHICH political candidate enjoys visiting New York because he has a girlfriend who lives downtown? The pol tells her he'll marry her when his current wife is out of the picture."
A month later the Huffington Post reported its first story. And a week after that the National Enquirer first publicly asserted that something untoward had taken place. On October 11, 2007, with his bid for the Democratic nomination still very much a possibility, Edwards denied vociferously any involvement in an affair. In December, the National Enquirer followed up with a story about Hunter's pregnancy.
When the national media did not take the bait on the report (the Huffington Post pursued it but couldn't confirm) little was heard about the matter. Until this past week when stories surfaced that Edwards had rendezvoused with Hunter in a hotel in Beverly Hills. On Friday, he released the following statement:
"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% honest is no longer enough."