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Edwards Likely Continued Affair Into Campaign, Hunter's Friends Say

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Sources close to Rielle Hunter, the novice-filmmaker who had an affair with John Edwards, say that the relationship between the two likely continued well after the then-presidential candidate confessed the infidelity to his wife.

In an excerpt of her forthcoming book, Elizabeth Edwards said that her husband told her of his indiscretion on December 30, 2006, "after returning from a tour to announce that he was running for President."

"I wanted him to drop out of the race, protect our family from this woman, from his act," Elizabeth writes, according to excerpts from her book. "It would only raise questions, he said, he had just gotten in the race; the most pointed questions would come if he dropped out days after he had gotten in the race."

The optics, indeed, would have been telling had Edwards immediately dropped out of the race upon entering. But according to two sources close to Hunter, the North Carolina Democrat was likely still willing to take a big risk with his family and campaign -- continuing his affair even after he told his wife and as he ran for the White House.

Asked if December 30, 2006, jived with her recollection of an end date for the relationship, Mimi Hockman, Hunter's business partner told the Huffington Post: "No. It doesn't."

"Think about it," she added. "[Elizabeth Edwards] says she 'doesn't know whether the child is John's or not', I think I read somewhere. Rielle got pregnant well after the campaign was over. Bit of a hole in her story, don't you think?"

Added Pigeon O'Brien, a close friend of Hunter's during the time of the affair: "Circumstantially we have a child that was conceived and the National Enquirer witnessing more than one visit by Edwards to a hotel with Rielle Hunter.... You would have to have a much stronger stomach in the romance department to end things like that. I couldn't see a former lover in a hotel room at 3 A.M. Those things seem rather intimate."

The questions over whether Edwards continued his affair into the campaign or ended it upon starting his election bid may seem like a mildly relevant footnote in an otherwise sad family drama. But for supporters of Edwards and the campaigns of his primary opponents, the extent to which he was willing to indulge in risky political behavior carries deep implications. It could, moreover, have ramifications should Edwards launch a political comeback. The long-dormant story of Edwards' infidelity were thrust back into the media spotlight this past week upon news of Elizabeth's forthcoming book and an FEC investigation into the use of funds by his presidential campaign.

The timeline of the relationship between Hunter and Edwards and the birth of Hunter's child certainly leaves room for debate as to the affair's end. Hunter's child was born on February 27, 2008, putting the point of conception likely in May 2007 - five months after the Edwards campaign commenced. Edwards has insisted that the child is not his, saying that his longtime aide Andrew Young (a father of three) was the dad. Staffers to the former Senator acknowledge that they do not believe such a claim to be true. And the line on the birth certificate for the name of the father was reportedly left blank. In a short clip released by the Oprah Winfrey Show, to air on Thursday, Elizabeth Edwards said she had "no idea" if the baby was John's. "I've seen a picture of the baby," she said. "It doesn't look my children, but I don't have any idea."

There is photographic evidence that has Hunter traveling alongside Edwards when he announced his campaign during the waning days of 2006, including on Dec. 30, 2006. But there are no other pictures, it seems, connecting the two until August 2008, when the National Enquirer published a photo of Edwards allegedly holding Hunter's child in a hotel room in California.

The last payment made by Edwards' One America Committee to Hunter's' Midline Groove Production - for a total of $14,086.50 - came on April 1, 2007. That, however, was likely an issue of delayed filing, as Hockman says: "Their final payment to us, concluding our six month contract with them was fed-exed to me and posted on [January 5, 2007]." In short: the possibility does exist that the affair between Edwards and Hunter ended with their business relationship. But Hunter's friends, for starters, don't believe that to be the case.

"I'm not sure what men tell their wives about their mistresses represents the most accurate portrayal of what actually happened," said O'Brien.

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