— The same week that former presidential contender John Edwards addressed his recent separation from wife Elizabeth, a new tell-all book from his former aide serves up salacious details of Edwards’ campaign trail affair with a staffer, which resulted in a child that Edwards last week finally admitted fathering.
Set for release Jan. 30, the memoir by the former North Carolina senator’s erstwhile aide Andrew Young, titled “The Politician,” portrays Edwards as a power-hungry politician who carried on the affair even while stumping for votes.
In a report on TODAY Thursday, NBC investigative reporter Lisa Myers called Young’s book “salacious, full of tawdry details, betrayal and countless lies. And as brutal as it is about John Edwards, it’s also tough on Elizabeth, who, the book says, became intoxicated by power, and sometimes looked the other way.”
In his tell-all, Young claims Edwards used campaign funds to cover the expenses of his mistress, campaign videographer Rielle Hunter. He also says that Edwards even brought Hunter to the family estate in Chapel Hill, N.C., sleeping with her in the same bed he shared with his wife.
Myers told TODAY’s Meredith Vieira that Hunter believed she had a future with Edwards, saying that she “felt like [the] first lady” and “talked about living in the mansion once Mrs. Edwards was out of the way.”
Edwards, in turn, told Hunter they would one day be married on a Manhattan rooftop while the Dave Matthews Band played.
The book also claims that Edwards asked the married Young to publicly claim that the child Edwards fathered by Hunter was actually Young’s. Young writes that Edwards told him, in asking Young to claim paternity, “I know you're mad at [Elizabeth], but I love her. I can’t let her die knowing this.”
Young acceded: When the supermarket tabloid The National Enquirer broke the story of Edwards’ affair with Hunter in December 2007, Young claimed fatherhood of the child Hunter was carrying.
Alleged trail of hush money
The book also asserts that while dealing with a pregnant mistress and a suspicious wife, Edwards and Young agreed by the middle of 2007 to solicit funds from a wealthy widow who had promised to "do whatever it takes" to make him president, according to the former confidant's new book.
Bunny Mellon, the widow of banking heir Paul Mellon, began sending checks "for many hundreds of thousands of dollars" hidden in boxes of chocolates, according to "The Politician" by former Edwards aide Andrew Young. The tell-all account describes how Young took the money and used it to keep mistress Rielle Hunter happy, hiding her from the media and a cancer-stricken Elizabeth Edwards.
Young claims the former vice-presidential nominee later said he didn't know anything about the cash even though the two discussed the matter and the cash began arriving soon after Edwards made a call to Mellon.
The book contains some of the most detailed information about a hanging question for John Edwards' future: an ongoing federal grand jury probe into his campaign's finances.
Prosecutors have refused to comment about the investigation, but Young says he spent hours testifying to the grand jury about the "huge sums of money that had quietly changed hands" during the campaign. Hunter has also made appearances at the federal courthouse in Raleigh where the grand jury is meeting.
Edwards has said in a previous statement that he is "confident that no funds from my campaign were used improperly." A spokeswoman did not immediately return a call seeking comment Thursday.
Mellon, now 99, had promised to give money to Edwards' political groups even before the affair began and eventually gave a total of $6 million for Edwards' causes, according to Young's book.
Edwards' political action committee paid Hunter's production company $100,000 in 2006 for her to work as a videographer to follow around the candidate as he prepared for his second quest for the White House. Months afterward, in April 2007, the PAC received $14,000 from Edwards' presidential campaign and then paid a similar amount to Hunter's production company.
Later cash destined for Hunter originated directly from Mellon checks that were sent to Young, with notes discussing her contributions to "the confederacy." Other distributions came directly came from Edwards' former campaign finance chairman Fred Baron, including a FedEx envelope of $1,000 and a note that read: "Old Chinese proverb: Use cash, not credit cards."
Young said federal prosecutors pressed him last year for details on the names, dates, amounts of the disbursements, "and just who knew what, when."
The longtime aide contends in the book that Mellon did not know what the money was being used for, and he argues that the funds "were gifts, entirely proper, and not subject to campaign finance laws."
North Carolina columnist Hal Crowther told NBC News he finds the unraveling Edwards story mind-boggling — particularly the detail about Edwards asking Young to claim fatherhood of Hunter’s child. “It seems to most of us to be such a spectacular, vile thing to do — to take your friend who’s married and have him confess to impregnating your mistress. It’s almost unbelievable.”
While John Edwards’ image takes a beating at the hands of his former aide, Young doesn’t spare Elizabeth Edwards in the book, either. She had battled breast cancer in 2004 before being given a clean bill of health, but announced in March 2007 her cancer had returned. Young claims the couple wanted to turn the recurrence into political capital because Edwards — a former vice presidential candidate who had been considered a front-runner for the 2008 Democratic Party nomination for president — had been slipping in the polls at the time.
Within days of Elizabeth Edwards’ announcement, the couple “agreed that this diagnosis would generate positive publicity after frustrating months when the press ignored him,” Young writes. “They actually believed the cancer would give the senator’s poll numbers a boost.”
Young also claims that Elizabeth dealt with her husband’s affair by alternately looking the other way, tracking his every move, yelling, crying and threatening suicide.
In a statement, Elizabeth Edwards’ representative said Young’s book “contains many falsehoods and exaggerations ... the allegation that she sought to politicize her cancer is unconscionable, hurtful and patently false.”
Meeting her husband’s child
Myers first reported the Edwards’ split on NBC last week. And in the latest issue of People magazine, reporter Sandra Sobieraj Westfall, who appeared on TODAY Thursday, speaks with Elizabeth’s sister Nancy Anania, who confirmed the couple had separated.
In the People interview, Anania said her sister Elizabeth visited Frances Quinn Hunter, the daughter Edwards fathered with Rielle Hunter, in a supervised visit at a North Carolina hotel last Christmas, a meeting that was not attended by the toddler’s mother.
Speaking with Westfall on TODAY, Matt Lauer commented that the baby visit was “surreal to imagine.” But Westfall said Elizabeth, knowing her cancer is terminal, wanted to ease the way for the child to be a sibling to her own three children by Edwards.
“She was taking steps to lay the path for her own children, who she knew after she was gone [are] going to have a relationship with their half sibling,” Westfall explained. “She knows she’s not going to be here as long as she had hoped, and she’s going to leave children behind who need an intact family.”
Westfall said she learned Elizabeth Edwards had long hoped she and John could move beyond his indiscretions, but “the buildup of distrust just became toxic.
“John couldn’t go through life having her always check his cell phone, and Elizabeth didn’t feel like she was getting the life that she wanted, always distrusting everything that came out of his mouth.”