Rielle Hunter thought she 'could help' John Edwards

In ‘20/20’ interview, she asserts that she’s ‘not a home wrecker’

ablythe@newsobserver.comJune 22, 2012 

Rielle Hunter never got to tell her side of the John Edwards story at his six-week criminal trial, though her relationship with the former presidential candidate and the details of her hopscotch across the country and months in hiding were at the crux of the case.

But with her tell-all book due out next week, the notably unfiltered former mistress is embarking on a publicity blitz with hopes that there is an audience interested in new details of her six-year-old affair.

In an interview with newsman Chris Cuomo on ABC’s “20/20” Friday, Hunter said that John Edwards’ extramarital affair with her was not his first, that his so-called “storybook marriage” with Elizabeth Edwards was truly a story.

“Their marriage was ruined before I got there. Years before I got there,” Hunter said.

Hunter, as has often been told, met Edwards at the Regency Hotel in New York in 2006 and approached him as he came back from a dinner with political supporters. “He rounded the street corner, and it came out of my mouth: ‘You’re so hot,’ ” Hunter recalled.

She also told Cuomo she went to Edwards’ hotel room because she thought she, a budding spiritual adviser, could “help him.”

Hunter, a 48-year-old woman who shrugs off descriptions of her as “home wrecker” and “political career wrecker,” laughed as she recalled that moment in a snippet of the interview aired on ABC’s “Good Morning America” on Friday.

“From the outside world looking in, (it’s) like, ‘Boy, did you sure help him,’ ” she told Cuomo.

While the two were in the hotel room, Edwards persuaded her to come sit with him on the bed, Hunter said.

“Something happened internally with me. I responded. ... I have not experienced it or felt what was happening before. Ever. An intensity like a rock concert. A lot of energy,” she told Cuomo.

The revelation of Edwards’ affair and out-of-wedlock child with Hunter caused the former Democratic U.S. senator and presidential candidate to descend from the heights of politics faster and deeper than his quick ascent.

It was a political scandal that sparked a novel campaign finance case and a salacious story line in criminal court of sex, conniving, vast wealth and personal betrayals.

Edwards, 59, walked out of a Greensboro federal courthouse last month, acquitted of one felony and offering words of praise for a jury that deadlocked in indecision on five other felony counts. Prosecutors dropped the five other charges last week, freeing a man whose life has been subject to scrutiny in recent years.

Elizabeth Edwards wrote two books about their family life before her death from cancer in December 2010. Now there’s Hunter’s account, “What Really Happened: John Edwards, Our Daughter and Me,” to be released June 26 by boutique publisher BenBella Books.

Hunter and Edwards split multiple times and later reconciled, according to the book.

TV news reports showed them together this month at Figure Eight Island on the North Carolina coast near Wilmington.

The long-term prospects for their relationship are uncertain, but Hunter says she still loves Edwards.

Marriage, though, might not be on the horizon.

“I’m not a big fan of the institution,” Hunter says, “but never say never.”

‘Not a home wrecker’

Cuomo said Thursday that his interview with Hunter is an important piece of a political drama that has been with the American public since the 2008 presidential campaigns.

“We’ve followed this for six years,” Cuomo said. “If it’s worth having an opinion about, it’s worth knowing from the person at the center of one of the biggest sex scandals in recent history what was in her mind.”

Hunter, who now lives in Charlotte, acknowledged making mistakes along the way, but says she does not regret falling for Edwards.

“First and foremost, I’m a mom,” Hunter told Cuomo. “And I’m also a woman who fell in love with a married man. I’m not the first woman who has done that, and I’m not going to be the last.”

Still, Hunter, who Cuomo described as refreshingly open, said her relationship with Edwards has been described in many different accounts that do not always gibe with her experience.

“I feel for both my daughter and for all the kids involved; the full truth needs to be in the public domain,” she said. “Their father’s not a demon, and their mother’s not a saint. And I’m not a home wrecker. We’re real human beings. And there is a real dynamic that was going on, good and bad. And we all made mistakes.”

Hunter has been the subject of harsh criticism since details of the affair surfaced and is already experiencing another wave as she peddles her book.

Many have condemned her for her relationship with Edwards as his wife was battling cancer. Others have slammed Hunter for some of her derogatory depictions of Elizabeth Edwards, particularly her description of the spurned wife as a “witch on wheels.”

“I have a great deal of compassion and empathy for her suffering,” Hunter tells Cuomo in the interview. “And I have no desire to bash Elizabeth.”

“Elizabeth is the mother to my daughter’s siblings,” she adds. “She is, indirectly, now my family. My desire is to tell the truth to help people understand instead of judge.”

In her book, Hunter describes how Elizabeth Edwards had the say over where she and Quinn would live in North Carolina.

Though Hunter first was keen on a home in Wilmington, that idea was scuttled.

“My lawyer told me that Elizabeth needed to pick where we lived,” Hunter writes in the book. “And I’m sorry, but how crazy is it that Elizabeth had gone out house hunting for a child that she wouldn’t allow her husband to furnish with health insurance or publicly acknowledge as his own child?”

As Hunter ran low on money and Elizabeth Edwards couldn’t decide on a place for her to live, she got an email from what she calls “Team Edwards” – John and Elizabeth and their attorneys – with a link to a rental property in Southport. She and her daughter lived there for a month, then headed to Charlotte to check out property.

Hunter was ready to move into a house there that the Edwardses had arranged to buy when her lawyer was informed she’d first have to sign a child-support agreement.

“One of their demands was to charge me rent on the house they had just bought for Quinn. The rent was to be taken out of the child support, which would have left us with basically no money.”

Hunter took a rental home.

Mark Washburn of The Charlotte Observer contributed to this report.

Blythe: 919-836-4948

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