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The John Edwards extramarital affair was admitted to in August 2008 by John Edwards, a former United States Senator from North Carolina and Democratic Party presidential candidate. The affair was initially reported by The National Enquirer, a US supermarket tabloid newspaper, but was given little or no coverage by many sources in the US mainstream media. The Enquirer cited claims by an anonymous source that Edwards had engaged in the affair with Rielle Hunter, a filmmaker hired to work for his presidential campaign, and that the relationship had produced a child.
The allegations, initially published in late 2007, were denied by both Edwards and Hunter. Andrew Young, a member of Edwards' campaign team, claimed paternity of Hunter's daughter; although no father is listed on the child's birth certificate and Young has subsequently denied it. The Enquirer's claims received little attention outside the tabloid press and political blogosphere until July 2008, when several mainstream media news outlets cited them in relation to Edwards' future political career, and his chances of being selected as a running mate in Barack Obama's 2008 presidential bid.
On August 7, 2008, Edwards admitted to ABC News correspondent Bob Woodruff that he did have an extended affair with Hunter, but denied he was the father of Hunter's baby girl. Hunter's sister claimed that Edwards was the father, and publicly asked Edwards to take a paternity test to determine whether the child was his.
On January 21, 2010, Edwards issued a statement admitting he was the father. After Edwards' admission that he fathered a child with his mistress, Edwards' wife Elizabeth separated from him and intended to file for divorce. ABC News reports that Young stated that Edwards asked him to "Get a doctor to fake the DNA results...and to steal a diaper from the baby so he could secretly do a DNA test to find out if this [was] indeed his child." On January 25, 2010, reports surfaced of the existence of an explicit sex tape featuring Edwards and Rielle Hunter.
When Edwards first admitted the affair, he said that his wife Elizabeth was in remission from breast cancer. However, it became clear that the affair was still ongoing even after he and Elizabeth made a joint announcement that her cancer had returned and was found to be incurable. Elizabeth died on December 7, 2010.
In December 2006, Newsweek reported that Rielle Hunter, a filmmaker, had been hired by the Edwards campaign to produce a series of webisodes portraying behind-the-scenes life on the campaign trail. Hunter had pitched the idea of the series to Edwards when she met him at a bar in New York, where he was attending a business meeting. The campaign paid Hunter's production company, Midline Groove, over US$100,000 for the short documentaries, which were uploaded to YouTube. Business Week later included one of the episodes in a feature on web video in 2006.
The first apparent print mention of a possible Edwards/Hunter affair appeared in the New York Post. On August 27, 2007, the Page Six feature published a blind gossip item which asked "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." The mention in the Post started a tabloid and blogosphere investigation that eventually led back to Hunter and Edwards.
In September 2007, Sam Stein, a political reporter for The Huffington Post, reported that the web documentaries had been pulled and were no longer accessible. Representatives from the Edwards campaign stated that the material could not be used due to campaign finance law. Several days later, The Huffington Post reported that the videos had been reposted to YouTube by an anonymous user.
On October 10, 2007, The National Enquirer, an American supermarket tabloid newspaper, published an article claiming that Edwards had engaged in an extramarital affair with an unnamed female campaign worker. On the same day, Sam Stein published another article at The Huffington Post which contained additional details about Hunter and the Web videos she had produced. The following day, October 11, New York published a piece which linked Hunter to the Enquirer allegations.
Both Edwards and Hunter denied the relationship claims. Edwards said the Enquirer story was "made up," and was quoted as saying "I've been in love with the same woman for 30-plus years," referring to his wife, Elizabeth Edwards, "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." Hunter's attorney issued a denial via Jerome Armstrong, a political blogger and founder of MyDD, stating "The innuendos and lies that have appeared on the internet (sic) and in the National Enquirer concerning John Edwards are not true, completely unfounded and ridiculous." David Perel, the Enquirer Editor-in-Chief, stood by the paper's allegations, stating, "The original story was 100% accurate."
The Enquirer published a follow-up story on December 19, 2007, that included a photograph of a visibly pregnant Hunter. The Enquirer alleged that, according to their anonymous source, Hunter was claiming that Edwards was the father of her child. The article also claimed that Hunter had relocated to a gated community in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, near Andrew Young, a former official with the Edwards campaign who had claimed paternity of Hunter's child. As with Hunter's initial denial of the affair, Young's paternity claim had been issued to Jerome Armstrong and published at MyDD.
The claims received little attention in the mainstream press. CBS News journalist Bob Schieffer, asked about the allegations on Imus in the Morning, stated "I believe that's a story that we will be avoiding, because it appears to me that there's absolutely nothing to it...This seems to be just sort of a staple of modern campaigns, that you got through at least one love child which turns out not to be a love child. And I think we can all do better than this one." Mickey Kaus, a journalist at Slate, speculated that the lack of mainstream coverage was motivated by a desire not to harm Elizabeth Edwards (who was fighting cancer at the time), or that the news organizations were taking a "wait-and-see" attitude pending the results of the Iowa caucuses.
According to David Perel, the Enquirer Editor-in-Chief, the paper had received information that Edwards would be visiting Hunter and her child at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills, California, on the evening of July 21, 2008, and the paper dispatched several reporters to the hotel. The team of Enquirer reporters encountered Edwards on the hotel premises sometime after 2 a.m. on the morning of July 22. According to Perel, Edwards, who was not a registered guest of the hotel, retreated from the reporters to a washroom, where he remained until being escorted from the premises by hotel security. The encounter between Edwards and the Enquirer reporters was later confirmed by a hotel guard interviewed by Fox News. Edwards' spokespeople did not respond to Fox's request for comment on the incident.
In articles published immediately after the hotel encounter, the Enquirer claimed that Edwards had visited with Hunter and her child in the Hilton for several hours. The Enquirer also claimed to have videotape of Hunter entering the room where she allegedly met Edwards, and videotape of Edwards leaving the same room, but the paper declined a request from Fox News to release photos or videotape of the incident. In an interview with Radar, Perel said that the Enquirer would release the photos when "the time is right". The Enquirer later stated that they had filed a "criminal complaint" against the hotel's security over their conduct during the encounter, but the Beverly Hills Police Department said that there was no criminal complaint, only an "incident report" that was under investigation.
Questioned at a New Orleans event on July 23, Edwards stated "I have no idea what you're asking about. I've responded, consistently, to these tabloid allegations by saying I don't respond to these lies and you know that ... and I stand by that." On the same day, Hunter appeared on the television program Extra, describing the Enquirer story as "completely unfounded and ridiculous".
On August 6, 2008, the Enquirer published a blurry photo alleged to be of Edwards holding Hunter's baby.
Aside from the Fox News story on July 25, mainstream news sources did not immediately report the story. Articles describing the Enquirer allegations were published by the magazines New York and Radar, and the claims were mentioned in opinion columns and in-house blogs of several other papers. On July 23, Glenn Beck talked about the story on his show on Headline News and recommended that if the Enquirer was wrong that John Edwards sue them.
The allegations were discussed by two reporters from The Washington Post. On July 23, Roxanne Roberts said "We have no evidence this is true. Lots of juicy details - enough so Edwards may feel he has to address the issue, especially if it's not true and there's an innocent explanation. Or not. That won't stop anyone from talking about it, but let's assume, until we know the facts, that this could be false." On July 25, in response to a question as to whether The Washington Post was investigating the claims, political reporter Jonathan Weisman stated "Yes, and to be quite honest, we're waiting to see the pictures the Enquirer says it will publish this weekend. That said, Edwards is no longer an elected official and is not running for any office now. Don't expect wall-to-wall coverage."
On July 25, Mickey Kaus at Slate published a July 24, e-mail from Tony Pierce, an editor at the Los Angeles Times, to the Times in-house bloggers, which referred to the Edwards allegations and said "...I am asking you all not to blog about this topic until further notified." Kaus portrayed the e-mail as a "gag" order. The incident was also mentioned by Rod Dreher at The Dallas Morning News, Paul Mulshine at The Star-Ledger, and Guy Adams at The Independent. In an online interview, Pierce defended the e-mail, stating that it was the result of a decision by senior editors at the Times to allow time for the newspaper's Metro Desk to investigate the allegations. Pierce also pointed out that a Times blogger had already posted a story on the Enquirer claims. On August 8, 2008, in response to dozens of e-mails to the Times, National Editor Scott Kraft stated that "this strikes us as a legitimate story". Times bloggers subsequently posted a story on the topic.
Over the period of July 27–28, the claims, and speculation about their possible impact on Edwards' political career, were picked up by several papers outside the United States, including The Times, The Independent, Der Spiegel, The Irish Independent, and The Times of India.
In the American political blogosphere, the story was covered by The Drudge Report, Jack Shafer and Mickey Kaus at Slate, Alex Coppelman at Salon.com, Rachel Sklar and Lee Stranahan at The Huffington Post (Stranahan also cross-posted his article to Daily Kos) and by independent political pundit James Joyner, among others. Some of the coverage alleged mainstream media bias due to Edwards' Democratic affiliation or contempt for tabloid papers like the Enquirer, and compared the coverage to that of a scandal involving Republican Senator Larry Craig. Some stated that the non-coverage was motivated by sympathy for Elizabeth Edwards. Others claimed that the Enquirer was reliable in regards to scandal reporting, noting their reporting on the Gary Hart/Donna Rice affair, the O. J. Simpson murder case, Jesse Jackson's out-of-wedlock child, and Rush Limbaugh's prescription drug addiction. Several pundits stated that Edwards was "fair game" for reporting on the allegations, because he had been recently identified as a potential candidate for Vice President or Attorney General for Barack Obama, and that Edwards himself had made his marital fidelity an issue in his campaign.
Blogosphere claims of a media "blackout" extended to the online reference site Wikipedia and its biographical article on Edwards. Several prominent sites criticized the omission of information about the allegations, most notably Gawker.com and the Media Research Center's NewsBusters blog. Another critic was Roger L. Simon of Pajamas Media, whose posts were linked by Glenn Reynolds at the high-traffic weblog Instapundit. The Wikipedia biography was later changed to include a mention of the allegations' potential impact on Edwards' political career. The controversy over the Wikipedia page was covered by Wired magazine, and Kansas City Star columnist Aaron Barnhart opined that the addition of the information to the Wikipedia article influenced later media coverage of the allegations.
As of August 6, cable television news network CNN had not mentioned the story, and MSNBC had mentioned it once — on July 31, a late night talk program played part of a David Letterman "Top 10" list which alluded to the charges. On the same night The O'Reilly Factor played a clip of a Jay Leno Tonight Show monologue that mentioned it. Altogether, Fox News had run stories or discussed the matter six times by August 6, more than any other cable news organization.
On August 8, 2008, in a statement that coincided with the Opening Ceremonies of the 2008 Olympic Games, Edwards admitted to the affair, but denied that he was the father of the child and said he was willing to take a paternity test. His statement included: "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 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 percent honest is no longer enough..."
On the same day, Elizabeth Edwards released a statement. The statement first appeared on the liberal blog, The Daily Kos. The statement said that in 2006 "John had made a terrible mistake", though she went on to praise her husband for "courage in the face of shame". She also said that she hopes people would watch the interview that aired later that night on ABC News's late night program, Nightline, where her husband admitted the affair to journalist Bob Woodruff. She did, in her statement, criticize the claims that her husband fathered a child as an "absurd lie in a tabloid publication". Elizabeth Edwards' seemingly willing participation in efforts to cover-up the affair have also been called into question. "I think she's complicit," said Brad Crone, a Raleigh-based Democratic consultant. "Obviously, she knew. While she's the victim, she clearly didn't stand in the way of the cover-up."
On August 12, 2008, a friend of Hunter's, Pigeon O'Brien, told CBS News that Edwards had lied about the time line of the affair. She claimed that the affair began in February 2006, six months earlier than the time Edwards hired Hunter to start working on his political action committee and when he claimed the affair had begun. O'Brien also stated that the affair was not a brief liaison, but a mutual, committed relationship based on love, or so Edwards led Hunter to believe.
On August 13, 2008, Hunter's sister, Roxanne Druck Marshall, gave an interview to CBS in which she personally apologized to John Edwards' wife for her sister's behavior, and also claimed that Edwards had lied in his confession because the affair was of longer duration than he had said and was still ongoing. Marshall also stated her opinion that in the days after the story broke, Edwards provided Hunter and her baby with a new and secret location in which to live, to prevent media reporters from finding her, and she called upon Edwards to tell the full truth about the affair.
An August 13, 2008, article from CBS News stated, "CBS News legal analyst Mickey Sherman told Early Show co-anchor Maggie Rodriguez that Edwards might be in legal jeopardy if it could be shown the funds were used for purposes other than the ones they were meant for. 'If you raise money to run for (office),' Sherman explained, 'and if you take that money that people have contributed to you based upon the fact that they think their money is going to a presidential candidate, and you give it to a girlfriend of a God-knows-what ... that's a crime.'"
Also on August 13, 2008, the New York Daily News reported that, when questioned about the affair by reporters, Mimi Hockman, Hunter's partner in the Midline Groove video production company, "said the contract they signed with John Edwards had a 'hefty' confidentiality clause that bars her from talking." Two days earlier, on August 11, 2008, Hockman had been questioned by reporters from the Star-Ledger at her home. According to reporter John Mooney, "Mary 'Mimi' Hockman [told reporters] 'Don't waste your time. [...] I'm contractually prohibited from talking to you.'"
On August 18, 2008, David Carr, news media columnist for The New York Times, wrote that while The National Enquirer can be inaccurate, its revelations about the Edwards affair were a service to the public:
On August 1, 2008, the Enquirer published an article naming Hunter's child. Mainstream news organizations subsequently obtained a copy of the birth certificate, and confirmed that a girl had been born at Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital on February 27, 2008. The birth certificate listed the mother's name as "Rielle Jaya James Druck"; the child was given the surname "Hunter"; no father's name was listed. Media reports linked the Druck and Hunter surnames on the birth certificate to conclude that the mother was Rielle Hunter; they also noted that the child was born approximately two months after Young's claimed paternity had been announced by Hunter and Young. When questioned about the omission of the father's name from the birth certificate, Hunter's attorney said "A lot of women do that" and that the issue was "a personal matter" between Hunter and Young, before declining to comment further.
In late July and early August 2008, news outlets reported that Edwards was avoiding further questions from reporters about the Enquirer claims. WCNC-TV, a North Carolina television station, said that Edwards' political career was "effectively frozen" pending resolution of the allegations.
Frederick Baron, Edwards' campaign finance chairman, in August 2008, told NBC News that he had been providing financial assistance to both Rielle Hunter and Andrew Young without Edwards' knowledge. He further stated that no campaign funds were used. Young had reportedly also successfully solicited funds from Rachel Lambert Mellon also called "Bunny" Mellon, a 99-year-old heiress to the Mellon fortune.
In August 2008, senior figures in the Democratic Party warned that Edwards' failure to respond to the allegations could affect his role at the 2008 Democratic convention. According to Don Fowler, former Democratic National Committee chair, "If there is not an explanation that’s satisfactory, acceptable and meets high moral standards, the answer is 'no,' he would not be a prime candidate to make a major address to the convention." Gary Pearce, who ran Edwards' 1998 Senate race, said "It's a very damaging thing. ... If it's not true, he's got to stand up and say, 'This is not true. That is not my child and I'm going to take legal action against the people who are spreading these lies.' It's not enough to say, 'That's tabloid trash.'" Edwards' admission that he engaged in an affair came less than a day after these warnings were published.
Former congressman David Bonior, Edwards' 2008 presidential campaign manager, stated: "Thousands of friends of the senator's and his supporters have put their faith and confidence in him, and he's let them down. They've been betrayed by his action." Asked about Edwards' future in public service, Bonior further stated: "You can't lie in politics and expect to have people's confidence."
In May 2009, ABC News political correspondent George Stephanopoulos reported that campaign staff members became cognizant of the affair in early 2008. He said that if it appeared that Edwards was on his way to winning the Democratic Party nomination, they intended to sabotage it for the better of the party. Edwards' senior adviser Joe Trippi said this report was "complete bullshit". He added "No one that I know had such a plan, I wasn't involved in a plan like that, it didn't exist, it's a fantasy." It is known, however, that in August 2006 several staffers (Josh Brumberger, Kim Rubey, and David Ginsberg) had strong suspicions about the affair and left the campaign over concerns about Rielle Hunter. Rubey and Ginsberg later discussed their obligation to the party to come forward with what they knew after finding Andrew Young's paternity claim unconvincing 
A federal grand jury investigated whether any Edwards campaign funds were misspent on covering up the affair. On August 6, 2009, Hunter testified before a federal grand jury in Raleigh, North Carolina. On January 21, 2010, John Edwards admitted that he was, indeed, Quinn's father.
Although Young had previously stated he was the father, he has recanted in a book proposal. In a pre-release copy of Young's book obtained by the Wall Street Journal, Young revealed that after Edwards and Hunter returned from a trip to Uganda in 2006, Elizabeth answered Edward's mobile to hear Hunter "launch into a romantic monologue". Edwards confessed to having had a one-night stand but didn’t say with whom. He returned the call in front of his wife to end the affair, but later called Hunter back to say he didn’t mean it. Young also says that Edwards confided in him about wanting to leave "crazy Elizabeth", but couldn't as she played better with American voters than he did.
In late January 2010, John and Elizabeth separated. In February 2010, The National Enquirer reported that Edwards proposed to Rielle Hunter, but that report was categorically denied by an Edwards spokesperson. Elizabeth Edwards died of breast cancer on December 7, 2010.
On June 3, 2011, Edwards was indicted by a North Carolina grand jury on six felony charges. Edwards faces a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison and a $1.5 million fine, $250,000 and/or 5 years imprisonment per charge. The indictment came after intensive negotiation for a plea bargain agreement failed. The agreement would have had Edwards plead guilty to three misdemeanor campaign finance law violations, and serve up to six months in prison, but allow Edwards to keep his law license.
After delays due to John Edwards' medical condition, jury selection for the trial began on April 12, 2012. Opening arguments began on April 23.
A verdict to the trial was reached on May 31, 2012.