Bowing to what connoisseurs of political scandal have long believed to be inevitable, John Edwards has announced that he is separating from his terminally ill wife Elizabeth, days after he was forced to admit having fathered an illegitimate daughter with a New York socialite.
The former senator and presidential candidate, who went from golden boy to national disgrace, said it was "an extraordinarily sad moment". "I love my children more than anything and still care deeply about Eilzabeth," he told the Associated Press.
His wife of 32 years, who has inoperable breast cancer, did not publicly comment. But her sister, Nancy Anania, said: "She's doing as well as you could expect," adding, "I'm really proud of her, that somehow, she's got strength that you rarely see in a person."
It was the latest instalment in a soap opera which began in October 2007, when Mr Edwards, who was then vying with Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama for the Democratic presidential nomination, was first reported to be romantically involved with a Manhattan socialite called Rielle Hunter.
At first, Mr Edwards described the claims, in The National Enquirer, as "false, completely untrue, and ridiculous". But a few weeks later, the paper obtained pictures of him meeting with Ms Hunter, who had previously worked as a videographer for his campaign team, at a Beverly Hills hotel.
Mr Edwards promptly owned up to a brief affair with Ms Hunter, and withdrew from the presidential campaign. But he continued to deny paternity of her daughter Frances, launching a bizarre cover-up that in the cold light of day was perhaps worse than his initial transgression.
It involved Andrew Young – a longstanding aide who was happily married with three children – publicly (and falsely) claiming that he had also had an affair with Ms Hunter, and was in fact the real father of her baby.
Details of the extent of that cover-up are due to enter the public domain in just a few days time, when Mr Young releases a memoir entitled The Politician. It will apparently reveal that Mr Edwards asked him to steal a nappy from the child and find a doctor to fake a paternity test.
The book will also tell how Mr Edwards, a committed Catholic, repeatedly attempted to force Ms Hunter to undergo an abortion. It will also describe the scene in the politician's office when it emerged that Hunter might own a video of them in bed together. "It was like watching a traffic pile-up occur in slow motion," reads a passage quoted by the Wall Street Journal. "It was repelling but also transfixing."
The embarrassment of the impending publication isn't the only cloud on Mr Edwards' horizon. A federal grand jury is investigating whether he illegally devoted campaign funds to Ms Hunter and Mr Young during the scandal, in a desperate effort to buy their silence.Reuse content