Putting an end at last to months of rumour, John Edwards, the 2004 and 2008 Democratic Presidential contender, admitted yesterday he had had an affair with a campaign worker while he was running for the White House and while his wife was suffering from incurable cancer.
Mr Edwards however denied he was the father of her child, as alleged by The National Enquirer, the supermarket tabloid that first broke the story 10 months ago. But he admitted in an interview with ABC News that he had lied repeatedly about his relationship with Rielle Hunter, a 42-year-old filmmaker who was taken on in 2006 to produce documentaries about the campaign. The former candidate insisted he did not love Ms Hunter, and the affair had taken place while his wife Elizabeth's cancer was in remission.
The scandal will put pay to any suggestion that Mr Edwards might still be under consideration by Barack Obama to be his vice-presidential running mate – as he was for the party's 2004 nominee John Kerry. It also makes it inconceivable that the former North Carolina senator will be offered any significant post in an Obama administration, and casts his political future in doubt.
Under normal circumstances, Mr Edwards who came second in the Iowa caucuses which kicked off the primary season in January, would have been offered a prominent speaking role at the Democratic convention in Denver later this month. Even that must be in doubt.
Long ignored by the country's main media outlets, the scandal in the last fortnight became impossible to contain, after the Enquirer reported in late July that Mr Edwards had spent five hours with Ms Hunter in a hotel room at the Beverly Hilton in Los Angeles – catching him as he was leaving at 2.45am – and then a few days published a blurred and grainy photo purporting to show the former senator in the hotel room with his love child Frances Quinn Hunter.
At that point Mr Edwards' earlier denials of the story as "tabloid trash" became untenable, and senior Democrats pressed him to come clean, to avoid the risk of an exploding scandal stealing Mr Obama's convention thunder. Yesterday he did so, in an interview with ABC News – timed in all probability to coincide with the start of the Olympics.
Most wrenching – indeed tragic – of all is the personal dimension of the story. Ms Edwards, popular and much admired for her courage in facing her cancer, was a major part of her husband's campaign. He in turn professed his adoration for her at every turn. Having made much in his campaign on the gap between "The Two Americas", rich and poor, he is bound to face charges of hypocrisy. "Now, it seems, there are two John Edwards," one Democratic analyst tartly commented. But big questions remain. In the first place no father is identified on the birth certificate of the five-month-old Frances Quinn – even though Andrew Young, a former Edwards aide, has claimed he was the father. This in turn raises the issue of whether the Edwards camp staged an elaborate and brazen cover-up. The Enquirer has reported that up to $35,000 a month was being channelled to Mr Young and Ms Hunter to maintain a cover-up and keep a lid on the scandal.
Moreover, if the affair was indeed long over and if he was not the father of the child, why did he visit Ms Hunter in the Los Angeles hotel last month and spent five hours with her until 2.45 a.m? National Enquirer reporters intercepted him as he was leaving, and he fled into a restroom to escape them. And why, if he is not the father, has he not undergone a paternity test which would resolve the issue very quickly?