John Edwards: his mistress, the new age guru, and the cover-up

Once a clean-cut hero for the Democrats, the Senator's fall from grace has been rapid and complete following more lurid revelations about the affair he had while his wife battled cancer

It was the best he could do in severely botched circumstances. John Edwards, the former US Senator with that sincerer-than-thou southern drawl, went on late night television to acknowledge what a certain tabloid newspaper had been hollering for months. Yes, he had had an extra-marital affair with a videographer who had once worked for him. It was over. He loves his wife. He was sorry. End of story.

Or not. A full week later – with the Democratic Convention in Denver just days away – and the story of Mr Edwards's dalliance with the film-maker, Rielle Hunter, won't lie down. In short order, we have learned of a payment of more than $14,000 (£7,000) that was paid to Ms Hunter months after her work for the campaign was done, that a well-known Texas lawyer and Democratic fundraiser called Fred Baron made additional cash transfers to her and to the man who she claims fathered a child she bore last February (a former aide to the Senator called Andrew Young) and that Mr Baron may also have helped in providing housing for Ms Hunter after she left the campaign, first in North Carolina and then in California.

All this and a steady stream of other related tidbits – some provided by a self-described New Age guru and former close friend of Ms Hunter named Pigeon O'Brien – add to the growing impression that there is more to the Edwards' story than just family tragedy and deception. Namely, did the campaign and its staff (with or without Mr Edwards knowing) channel funds to Ms Hunter to buy her silence at a time when Mr Edwards was embarking on a campaign to become the president of the country? And, perhaps more disturbing still, did that deal include an agreement to pin the paternity of the love child on the aide, Mr Young. Just days before the start of the Democratic convention in Denver, which will culminate in the crowning of Barack Obama, are we, in fact, seeing the early outlines of a first-rate political cover-up?

It is because this is not just trivial voyeurism into a private story of marital mess, that the story the Democrats need to go away, just won't. Mr Baron, who hosted a fundraiser for Mr Obama in Colorado the night before Mr Edwards went on national TV to bare his contrite soul, is starting finally to give some substance to the rumours of his involvement in taking care of Ms Hunter as Mr Edward's campaign got off the ground.

Not that she can really know for sure, but Pigeon O'Brien has meanwhile been putting in her penny's worth about the child's paternity on the breakfast TV shows. Mr Young, she says, is not the Dad. The suspicions regarding paternity only deepened when Ms Hunter let it be known that she has no interest in submitting any of the child's DNA for a paternity test. The full extent of Mr Baron's part in this play remains blurry but is becoming more clear.

It was Mr Baron, who had served as finance chairman on Mr Edwards' campaign as well as on the 2004 campaign of John Kerry, for instance, who reportedly recommended the respective lawyers who ended up speaking for Mr Young and for Ms Hunter, the one confirming that Mr Young was the father of the child and other saying that Mr Edwards was not. And Mr Baron stepped forward to help Ms Hunter in other ways, too, both with occasional cash contributions and in finding her housing after the child was born.

"I have a brief recollection of giving someone some cash," Mr Baron admitted to The New York Times. "My assumption is I loaned some small amount of money to both of them." Elsewhere, Mr Baron last week said that whatever else he did or did not do for Hunter and Young, it was all with a view to keeping them away from prying tabloid reporters and he did all of it without the knowledge of Mr Edwards.

Then there is the matter of Ms Hunter's accommodations. By the middle of 2007, long after the affair was meant to be over and the child was already born, she moved into a house in a gated community in Raleigh, North Carolina – the same gated community where Mr Young lived with his wife and three children. Later that year, Ms Hunter and the Youngs moved to a new home in California. For a while at least, they were all living under the same roof, a rum arrangement for sure, particularly for Mr Young's wife. Mr Baron told the Times that he had covered some of the costs of that move with his own money.

Attracting red flags all last week were the circumstances of a $14,086, payment made to Ms Hunter in April 2007 with funds from Mr Edwards' now defunct political action committee, several months after her contract to make short videos for the candidate's web site had been terminated. Former aides to the Senator now insist it was a legitimate late payment for footage she had shot that had never been used.

Ms O'Brien, meanwhile, does not purport to have any window on to any of the financial goings on, only into the heart of Ms Hunter. The two were good friends – or used to be – and shared an interest in New Age teaching. Indeed, Pigeon helped Rielle create a web site for herself called

Importantly, Ms O'Brien is adamant that Mr Edwards has been fibbing about the dates and duration of the affair. It started, she says, not in the autumn of 2006 but at the start of the year after meeting for the first time at the Regency Hotel in New York. Moreover, according to Ms O'Brien during those early months of visiting North Carolina, the home state of Mr Edwards, she spoke only of him and not once of Mr Young, the purported father of her child.

When an interviewer on CBS last week asked Ms O'Brien if she believed that Mr Edwards was in fact the father, her answer was instant. "I do. I don't see any other explanation. She would not have a child with someone she doesn't love and she loves him."

Democrats have been rehearsing the what-ifs about Senator Edwards all week. What if he had decided against running and his absence had allowed Hillary Clinton to win Iowa in January? (Answer: she, not Barack Obama, might very well be the nominee now.) What if he had somehow caught fire in the primaries and he was their nominee when the extra-marital beans started spilling? (Doesn't bare thinking about.) But more urgent now is calculating to what extent the ripples from the Edward quake might damage the party at its convention in Denver and at the polls in November.

Republicans cannot throw stones when it comes to politics and bad behaviour. But this is the year when politics were meant to be upbeat and hopeful, at least according to the Democratic script. If the Edwards campaign is found to have perpetrated a cover-up, the American voters will want an explanation. If it involved a deal to conceal the Senator's paternity of the child, they may want to tear him limb from limb.

At the very least, the Edwards affair is an unwelcome downer. As Margaret Carlson, a political commentator for Bloomberg News put it: "Lying, regardless of who engages in it, rebounds to the detriment of the party that asks people to believe they can do better."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Life and Style
Google celebrates the 126th anniversary of the Eiffel Tower opening its doors to the public for the first time
techGoogle celebrates Paris's iconic landmark, which opened to the public 126 years ago today
Cleopatra the tortoise suffers from a painful disease that causes her shell to disintegrate; her new prosthetic one has been custom-made for her using 3D printing technology
newsCleopatra had been suffering from 'pyramiding'
Arts and Entertainment
Coachella and Lollapalooza festivals have both listed the selfie stick devices as “prohibited items”
Nigel Owens was targeted on Twitter because of his sexuality during the Six Nations finale between England and France earlier this month
rugbyReferee Nigel Owens on coming out, and homophobic Twitter abuse
Arts and Entertainment
Tracey Emin visits her 1990s work ‘My Bed’ at Tate Britain in London, where it is back on display from today
artsBut how does the iconic work stand up, 16 years on?
Life and Style
life + style
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Web Designer / Front End Developer

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast expanding web managem...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey/ South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Recruitment Consultant / Account Manager - Surrey / SW London

£40000 per annum + realistic targets: Ashdown Group: A thriving recruitment co...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor