Local Politics

Family, friends relieved Edwards admits paternity

Posted January 21, 2010 7:01 a.m. EST
Updated January 22, 2010 2:08 p.m. EST

— Two-time Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards released a statement Thursday morning admitting that he fathered a child with former campaign staffer Rielle Hunter, a relationship that he had previously denied.

"I am Quinn's father," the former U.S. senator declared in his statement, as the second birthday of Frances Quinn Hunter approaches.

"I will do everything in my power to provide her with the love and support she deserves," he continued. "I have been able to spend time with her during the past year and trust that future efforts to show her the love and affection she deserves can be done privately and in peace."

Edwards' spokeswoman said he would not grant any interviews at this time. He arrived in Haiti Thursday with a group of physicians and others to deliver needed medical supplies to assist with earthquake recovery efforts.

Hunter's New Jersey-based lawyer, Michael Critchley, said Edwards' admission was "good for everyone."

Hunter didn't have an immediate comment on the matter, Critchley said.

Elizabeth Edwards said her "whole family feels relieved" that her husband acknowledged paternity of Hunter's child. She said she hopes the declaration will help end publicity about the family.

She declined to talk about her marital status, saying, "My marriage shouldn't be on anybody's radar screen except mine."

John Edwards' attorney, Wade Smith, said his client wanted to admit paternity "months ago," but "he was waiting for the right time."

"It's a very complicated process. He has a family. It's not simple," Smith said. "A lot of things had to fall into place that I don't want to comment on."

A custody and child support agreement between Edwards and Hunter likely played into that delay, he said.

"He wants to know this child well and care for this child and wants this child to be part of his life," he said.

Smith said there can never be a logical explanation for why Edwards initially denied being the father, but he added that Edwards was "very pleased" to finally set the record straight.

"We have wanted John to be real," he said. "It isn't a matter of making people happy so much as it is doing the right thing about this child. This is a gift. This child is a gift."

Edwards' life "has totally fallen apart" in the last year, Smith said, adding that Edwards "recognizes that he has been at fault."

"One of the problems is that John has been thinking about his own life and not others. It's time for him to make that change," he said.

David Kirby, a longtime friend of the Edwardses and John Edwards' former law partner, said people were more upset about Edwards' repeated denials – first of the affair and later his paternity of the child – than of his indiscretions.

"There's a lot of anger from the public toward John, and there's a lot of anger among friends toward John," Kirby said.

Andrew Young, a former Edwards aide who initially claimed paternity of the child, is scheduled to release a book on Feb. 2 that is expected to provide insight into Edwards' affair, including details that he was given the task of obtaining money to help hide the affair.

Federal investigators want to know if funds from Edwards' presidential campaign were illegally used to cover up the affair.

His political action committee paid Hunter's video production firm $100,000 in early 2006. One $14,000 payment to her was made the same day the campaign gave the PAC $14,000 for a "furniture purchase."

Fred Baron, who was Edwards' national finance chairman and a wealthy Dallas-based trial attorney, said in 2008 that he quietly sent money to Hunter and to resettle Young's family. Baron died later that year.

Both Young and Hunter – she had her child in tow – appeared at the federal courthouse in Raleigh in recent months on days when the grand jury investigating Edwards' campaign finances was meeting.

Grand jury proceedings are secret, so it's unclear whether they testified.

Edwards adamantly denied during a 2008 interview with ABC News that he had fathered a child with Hunter and said he welcomed a paternity test. He said then that the affair had ended in 2006.

The child was born Feb. 27, 2008, indicating that she was conceived in the middle of 2007, several months after Hunter stopped working for Edwards and after Edwards learned his wife's cancer had returned.

Elizabeth Edwards' breast cancer had been in remission, but the couple held a March 2007 news conference to say that it had returned in an incurable form but that John Edwards would continue his presidential bid.

Elizabeth Edwards has stood by her husband despite the affair. She has said that it does not matter to her whether her husband fathered a child with Hunter, saying only "that would be a part of John's life, but not a part of mine."

Kirby called Elizabeth Edwards a great mother and said he wouldn't be surprised if she welcomes Hunter's child into her life.

"This has been incredibly hard on Elizabeth," he said. "I'm the eternal optimist, and I think one day they will get past this."

Since admitting the affair in August 2008, John Edwards has largely gone into seclusion.

Kirby said Edwards has been doing a lot of soul-searching in recent months. He said his friend will continue to work on addressing poverty and likely isn't thinking about politics at all.