CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — Former Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards admitted Friday to having an affair with a campaign worker two years ago, but he denied fathering her child.
Allegations surfaced late last year that Edwards, a Chapel Hill lawyer and former U.S. senator, had an affair with Rielle Hunter, a videographer for his campaign, that she became pregnant and had a child and that a campaign worker stepped in to claim paternity.
Edwards repeatedly denied the allegations, but he acknowledged Friday the affair took place in 2006. Although he hasn't taken a paternity test, he said he couldn't be the father of Hunter's child because the affair ended before the child, who was born in February, was conceived. He said he is willing to take a paternity test to prove it.
"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," Edwards said in a statement. "It is inadequate to say to the people who believed in me that I am sorry, as it is inadequate to say to the people who love me that I am sorry."
Hunter, 42, was hired by the Edwards campaign in 2006. She later traveled with him around the country and to Africa.
Edwards said his wife, Elizabeth, and others in his family became aware of the affair in 2006.
"Although I was honest in every painful detail with my family, I did not tell the public," John Edwards said in the statement. "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."
Elizabeth Edwards was diagnosed in 2004 with breast cancer, but John Edwards said the disease was in remission when he began his affair with Hunter. Elizabeth Edwards' cancer recurred last year during her husband's second presidential campaign.
In a statement posted on political blog Daily Kos late Friday, Elizabeth Edwards said she is “proud of the courage John showed by his honesty in the face of shame.” She also took tabloids to task for alleging her husband was the father of Hunter’s child.
“Because of a recent string of hurtful and absurd lies in a tabloid publication, because of a picture falsely suggesting that John was spending time with a child it wrongly alleged he had fathered outside our marriage, our private matter could no longer be wholly private,” Elizabeth Edwards said.
Elizabeth Edwards also asked that “the public, who expressed concern about the harm John’s conduct has done to us, think also about the real harm that the present voyeurism does and give me and my family the privacy we need at this time.”
CBS News chief White House correspondent Bob Schieffer spoke to John and Elizabeth Edwards on Friday afternoon. Schieffer reported that when Elizabeth got on the phone, "she was obviously in tears" and that she said "this is really, really tough," but she confirmed Edwards told her about the affair in 2006 and the couple had decided to "move on." When Schieffer asked John Edwards how his wife was doing, he said "she is just amazing, like she always is."
John Edwards said he never paid Hunter or Andrew Young, the man who claims to be the baby's father, to keep quiet. He said he would be willing to take a paternity test to prove he's not the father.
The child's birth certificate doesn't list the father's name.
David Kirby, John Edwards' former law partner, said he was saddened by the episode.
"Both John and Elizabeth have so much to offer moving forward. I hope that the two of them can work through this and work beyond this," Kirby said. "John Edwards dearly loves his wife and always has."
Although an extramarital affair was out of character for John Edwards, Kirby said, acknowledging it was true to form for him.
"He's a very honest person; he's a very ethical person," he said. "While the behavior may be disapproved of, it's very much like John Edwards to come forward."
Former Democratic consultant Joe Sinsheimer recently joined a number of Democrats to call on John Edwards to address the love-child rumors so they wouldn't linger.
"This is clearly a family tragedy for everyone involved," Sinsheimer said. "It's not just that Sen. Edwards had an affair. It's that to take this kind of risk in 2006 with full knowledge he's going to run for president really exposes a deep, deep character flaw."
John Edwards said in his statement that he became "egocentric and narcissistic" after running for the U.S. Senate in 1998 and for president in 2004.
In 1999, when Edwards was a senator, he said of President Bill Clinton and his affair with Monica Lewinsky:
"I think this president has shown a remarkable disrespect for his office, for the moral dimensions of leadership, for his friends, for his wife, for his precious daughter. It is breathtaking to me the level to which that disrespect has risen."
Sinsheimer said he thinks John Edwards can eventually repair his reputation and resume a career in public service, but he said he seriously doubts that the former senator will attend the Democratic National Convention in Denver in three weeks.
"When people see a politician as talented as John Edwards fall from grace like this, what they do is withdraw from the process. They get cynical," he said. "I think a lot of people will admire his honesty. The problem is that they're going to put on the other side of the ledger that he's lied about this for months and the fact that he really campaigned as a team with Elizabeth Edwards. This was the partnership that was being presented to America."
Ethan and Erin Barger, who voted for John Edwards in the Democratic primary, said the admission of an affair was difficult to accept.
"He's so truthful that it really makes it difficult for me to believe in everything that he says now. I really question that," Erin Barger said.
"At first, I said there's no way it could happen, but when it did come out, I was (saying), 'Well, people do make mistakes and I still support him,'" Ethan Barger said.
Other supporters said he now joins the ranks of politicians who have cheated on their wives.
"To have somebody that's a positive influence in politics doing something that's ethically not so great is really disappointing," Christina Taylor said.
"It was disappointing, but you know, in the final analysis, it doesn't change my opinion of him as a person or a public servant," Steve McAlister said.
Edwards said he would continue trying to help people in need.
"If you want to beat me up, feel free," he said in the statement. "You cannot beat me up more than I have already beaten up myself. I have been stripped bare and will now work with everything I have to help my family and others who need my help.