New York — Two-time Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards was so cavalier about his illicit relationship with a campaign staffer that he allowed her to make a videotape of a sexual encounter and never ensured it was destroyed, a former top aide said Monday.
In a one-on-one interview with WRAL News two days after the release of his tell-all book about Edwards' campaign and affair, Andrew Young said he thinks John and Elizabeth Edwards became so power-hungry that they lost their moral compasses as they chased a bid for the White House.
Young's book, "The Politician," went on sale Saturday and by Monday was the No. 2 seller on BarnesandNoble.com and among the top sellers on Amazon.com.
The 300-page book suggests both John and Elizabeth Edwards put on public personas to appeal to voters but acted far differently behind the scenes. He depicts John Edwards as someone caught up in the trappings of power and Elizabeth Edwards as shrill and demanding.
Still, Young said Monday, he latched on to John Edwards in 1998, when Edwards was first elected to the U.S. Senate from North Carolina, because he thought he was destined to be president.
"We were doing very good things," he said. "I felt like I was a part of history."
He said he did "anything and everything to help" and quickly became Edwards' right-hand man. He even helped raise $10 million for Edwards' campaigns.
Yet, Young said, none of Edwards' flaws – even his affair with Rielle Hunter, who was hired to produce promotional campaign videos – ever appeared as a red flag to him.
"You balance out what’s the greater good – the sporadic appalling behavior or helping a lot of people," he said.
Young said he eventually became disillusioned when it was obvious the affair wasn't ending and that Edwards was less than discreet about it. He said Edwards and Hunter flirted openly on the campaign trail in front of aides and donors.
"He point-blank told me, 'Andrew, I couldn’t divorce Elizabeth if i wanted to. She’s more popular than I am, and I want New Hampshire,'" Young said of Edwards.
When Hunter became pregnant in 2007, Young said, he had 12 hours to decide to go along with Edwards' plan that he pretend to be the father of the child. That entailed moving with his family from Chapel Hill to California, where he and Hunter could live near one another.
"I’m not in any way denying what we did was absolutely wrong. We believed at the time that we were doing it for the right reasons," he said. "I realize (now) that I hurt a lot of people."
Major campaign donors helped cover Hunter's expenses in California, he said, but he is convinced that heiress Rachel "Bunny" Mellon, who gave millions to Edwards' political action committee, didn't know how her money was being used.
Young said he didn't get paid for participating in the ruse, beyond his family's living expenses in California. Fred Baron, a Dallas lawyer who was Edwards' campaign finance chairman, also gave Young and his wife $325,000 so they could finish building their Chapel Hill home and put it up for sale, he said.
Young said he was stunned when he found the sex tape in the home he had rented for Hunter in the gated Governor's Club community in Chatham County in 2008.
"I was aghast because he did this in the middle of running for president," he said. "But it shows the arrogance and the hubris that he had."
"We had gone to grand extremes to protect them on our part, and here’s a sex tape," said Young's wife, Cheri Young.
Andrew Young said he took the tape and kept it as proof that his story was true. Cheri Young said she also kept harassing phone messages from Elizabeth Edwards to bolster their story.
"She tormented the daylights out me," Cheri Young said. "This woman is calling me and threatening me and tormenting me over lies, and at this point, she knew (of John Edwards' affair and illegitimate child)."
Edwards last month admitted that he fathered Hunter's daughter, who turns 2 this month. Elizabeth Edwards announced last week that she and her husband have separated.
Although some media outlets offered huge sums for the sex tape, Andrew Young said, he never had any intention of selling it.
Hunter last week filed suit against the Youngs to regain custody of the video, and Andrew Young said Monday that he would let his lawyers sort out that dispute.
The Youngs said they decided last year to write "The Politician" to help set the record straight after so many negative statements had been made about them. They also acknowledged that it was a way to make money; Young hasn't worked since leaving the Edwards campaign.
"I want my kids to someday to understand why we did this enormously stupid thing," he said.
Young said he testified truthfully to a federal grand jury in Raleigh that has been investigating whether campaign money was used illegally to hide Edwards' affair. He also is ready to testify in any criminal case, adding that he doesn't know enough about campaign finance law to determine whether any laws were broken.
"The only judgment that I can make is that they’ve spent a lot a lot of time and energy on this. I can’t imagine them spending as much time as they have without having something," he said.