What a mess. John Edwards lied. Rielle Hunter lied. Andrew and Cheri Young lied. Elizabeth Edwards didn’t lie, but was unwittingly living a lie. John and Elizabeth fought about Andrew. Andrew and Cheri fought about John. Rielle and John fought about Elizabeth.
Then everybody (eventually) ‘fessed up -- about the betrayals, the love child, the billionaires, the luxe hide-outs, the coverup, the sex tape.
Wasn’t that enough John Edwards drama to last a lifetime?
“This thing will never end,” said a weary Andrew Young, onetime top aide to the former North Carolina senator and 2008 Democratic presidential hopeful.
Now that is the truth:
* A federal grand jury is investigating whether Edwards funneled campaign money to his mistress, Hunter, for her personal use, which could be a crime. Last summer, Hunter and Young testified for hours in the case.
* After Young revealed he discovered a tape of Edwards cavorting with a pregnant Hunter, Hunter sued the Youngs to get it back. The case could drag on for months, said attorneys on both sides. Hunter said the Youngs purloined the tape from a box she had left in a house they rented for her; the Youngs said she left it as trash.
* Elizabeth kicked John out after he finally admitted to fathering Hunter’s baby. Though she is terminally ill, they are heading for divorce. She also briefly threatened to sue the Youngs over alienation of affection and intentional infliction of mental distress.
* After John reached a child-support pact with Hunter, she posed sans pants in the April GQ, criticized Elizabeth and proclaimed her eternal love for “Johnny.” She will soon bare her soul to Oprah Winfrey. National Enquirer, which broke the scandal and nominated itself for a Pulitzer Prize, remains vigilant: “John Edwards’ mistress uninvited visit to kiddie gym with lovechild in tow” was a recent headline.
* And Young has penned “The Politician,” a bestseller being shopped around by top Hollywood agent Ari Emanuel for the inevitable movie. The writer Aaron Sorkin and actor Tobey Maguire have both expressed interest.
You can’t see any neighbors from Andrew and Cheri Young’s mountaintop home, but more important, no one can see them. On 10 acres of piney woods, the expansive house -- French country meets rustic retreat -- is a 5,000-square-foot, custom-built place they don’t want to live in anymore.
“We don’t want to be seen, or judged,” said Cheri, 36, a pediatric nurse. “We don’t even go to church.”
Chapel Hill is a small town. They are constantly reminded of the Very Stupid Thing they did to try to save the 2008 presidential prospects of Andrew’s boss, John Edwards: agreeing to say Andrew fathered Hunter’s baby.
“I feel guilty for saying yes to this horrible mess; I feel guilty for lying to America, to everybody, the world,” said Cheri, sitting on a patio chair in a navy blue track suit while their three children were in school. For years, the Youngs fought about how Andrew ignored his own family to serve the Edwardses.
Andrew, 43, has the flattened affect of a man under great strain. “I feel most guilty for what I put you and the kids through.”
What about guilt toward Elizabeth Edwards?
“Sometimes,” Andrew said. “But she made it difficult.”
Elizabeth Edwards has said she disliked Young nearly from the beginning. Young felt she resented his closeness to her husband, but it was more than that. She also thought Young had insinuated himself into their lives for selfish reasons, and would do anything to get to the top with them.
Young recounted in his book that Elizabeth blamed him for a wave of bad publicity in 2006, on the eve of Edwards’ second presidential bid, when a staffer called Wal-Mart for help getting a PlayStation 3.
At the time, Edwards was in the news for leading a campaign against the giant retailer for unfair labor practices. Wal-Mart reacted with glee: “While the rest of America’s working families are waiting patiently in line, Sen. Edwards wants to cut to the front.” Young blamed an inexperienced aide, but Elizabeth demanded her husband fire Young. When he refused, she banished Young from their home.
In December 2006, wrote Young, Elizabeth answered her husband’s phone and heard a woman’s voice: “Hey, baby.” Edwards confessed to a one-night stand with Hunter, his campaign videographer, but told Elizabeth she was actually Young’s mistress. Elizabeth believed her husband; Young became the perfect fall guy for Edwards’ extramarital dalliance.
In October 2007, as the Edwards presidential campaign was in full swing, National Enquirer broke the scandal. Edwards and Hunter denounced the story as “ridiculous.” The mainstream media let it drop.
Even in politics, where “obsequious underling” is a redundancy, Young’s devotion to the boss was over the top. “Game Change,” the other bestseller about the 2008 campaign, demeaned him as “comically servile.”
But for 10 years, Young was Edwards’ No. 1 aide. He worked as personal assistant, fundraiser, Senate office scheduler, driver, running partner and confidant.
He was on call when the Edwardses had a house flood. He arranged delivery of their Christmas tree. He’d meet John at the airport with his favorite Sauvignon Blanc on ice.
“People made fun of me for all the stuff I did, but I did it because I deeply believed in John,” Young said. “How many times do you meet somebody who everybody is gushing over as the next JFK? They called him Bill Clinton without the baggage.”
Young, who said he earned as much as $300,000 a year from various Edwards organizations, has kept reams of records -- phone logs, voice mails, e-mails, official and private documents.
“Here, look at this,” said Young, holding a notarized document that appeared to be signed by Edwards. “Would you give power of attorney to someone who was your little gofer boy?” (Maybe: The power was granted only to oversee installation of utilities at the Edwardses’ new home.)
Young kept it all, certain the material would be a valuable addition to a presidential library.
In the end, it was very helpful -- in preparing Young’s grand jury testimony and his book.
Young would like to believe his story is a call to reform a corrupt political system.
In December 2007, after National Enquirer found a pregnant Hunter living with the Youngs in Chapel Hill, Edwards’ finance chairman, Dallas trial attorney Fred Baron, stepped in.
Baron, who has since died of cancer, publicly admitted to spending lavishly to keep the Youngs and Hunter in luxury digs in Montecito, Aspen, Colo., and San Diego as they eluded the tabloids.
That bought time for Edwards -- who dropped out of the race in January 2008 after a poor showing in early contests -- to try for a plum job, maybe even vice president, with Hillary Rodham Clinton or Barack Obama.
Young said that the nonagenarian heiress Rachel “Bunny” Mellon also opened her wallet, clueless that her money was supporting a mistress. She promised to fund a poverty center that would keep Edwards politically viable into 2012 and provide Young a job, but that fell through.
Then, said Young, Edwards distanced himself from Young after Quinn was born on Feb. 27, 2008. That summer, he promised Young a job reference, then went on TV to admit his affair but deny paternity.
Young slunk back to North Carolina, angry, unemployable and with only one viable option: to go public. He had plenty of documentation, and by then, a sex tape.
Elizabeth Edwards, 60, said in a phone interview that she was at peace. Her cancer is “minusculely” worse than it has been, and she is busy with her two youngest children, Jack, 9, and Emma Claire, 11; her Chapel Hill furniture store, the Red Window; and writing a new chapter for the paperback of her book “Resilience.”
In it, she said, she will discuss the disintegration of her marriage. She has met Quinn, and her relationship with her husband is cordial.
She has reconnected with old friends on Facebook, and is taking a painting class. “I’m so happy for her,” said Heather North McGraw, who was the Edwardses’ nanny for five years. “She is finally doing things for herself.”
Elizabeth has told people that she believed Young was the father of Hunter’s baby until last summer, when John revealed the truth to her in therapy. She feels vindicated by Hunter’s show of poor taste in GQ.
But she and Hunter agree on one thing: Both think Young, not Edwards, came up with the Very Stupid Idea.
Young, however, has insisted the idea was all Edwards’.
“Here we were 10 days before the Iowa caucuses,” he told a friendly crowd at a book signing in St. Louis on March 18. “The senator convinced us that Elizabeth was within weeks of dying: ‘I am ashamed . . . will you step up for me just for a short time and help me keep this off the front page of the newspaper?’ That was the argument that got us. Did I also want to be right-hand man of the leader of the free world? Of course.”
Elizabeth Edwards has maintained she was never, nor is she now, near death.
Still McGraw, the former nanny, said she believes Young.
“I know for a fact that the Youngs did love Elizabeth,” McGraw said. “They did think she was going to pass away, and what they did was to protect her in a sense. But I also agree with Elizabeth that John was Andrew’s meal ticket. Andrew has a good heart, but he’s not the most intelligent person in the world. And he was working for someone who is super-manipulative, one of the best trial lawyers in the country.”
John Edwards, 56, has rented a house near Chapel Hill in Hillsborough, said his spokeswoman Joyce Fitzpatrick. He hangs out at the Wooden Nickel Pub and Tupelo’s Restaurant, where he reportedly soaks up the patrons’ attention.
He visited Haiti in January to help with earthquake relief, and has been to El Salvador three times with a group that builds homes for the poor. He visits his children (all of them) and is anxiously awaiting the results of the federal grand jury probe, Fitzpatrick said.
With Hunter mum until her Oprah moment in May and John Edwards declining to speak, Young is taking advantage of his moment in the spotlight.
He has debilitating stage fright, but thanks to therapy and anti-anxiety medication, has been on TV and radio nonstop. On March 26, he panicked when he learned the Chatham County courthouse in Pittsboro was in flames. (The sex tape, which Young said “is much more bizarre than anybody has any idea,” was stored off-site.)
The Youngs want to leave North Carolina, maybe even return to California, where they spent the bulk of their time on the lam. Cheri could surely get a job, but so far, no one is clamoring to hire a man who acceded to one of the biggest lies in recent political history.
“I left 70% out of the book because I couldn’t prove it,” Young told a hometown audience at his first book signing, on March 16 in Durham. “There’s a lot, lot, lot more.”