Cate Edwards: Rielle's daughter with dad is 'part of our family'

March 29, 2013 at 7:58 AM ET

In her first interview since her father’s trial for campaign finance fraud, Cate Edwards, 31, told Savannah Guthrie on TODAY that she was angry and “devastated’’ about John Edwards' affair with Rielle Hunter.

But the former presidential candidate's eldest daughter chose to stand by him while he faced charges of using campaign contributions to cover up the affair.

“He's my dad, you know?’’ Edwards told Guthrie. “We love each other and we support each other. That's just how our family is."

The trial publicly revealed the sordid details of the fallen political star's relationship with Hunter. During the affair, his wife, author and healthcare activist Elizabeth Edwards, was battling the breast cancer that ultimately took her life in 2010.

“I did not fault my dad for the trial,’’ Edwards said. “He made those mistakes, there's no question, but I never, never thought he did anything illegal. So I didn't think (the trial) was right.

Cate stood by her dad through his campaign finance-fraud trial.

“It was difficult for our family to see this very private, very difficult part of our lives rehashed in front of everyone, but there was nowhere else I would have rather been at the time.”

Cate maintains a relationship with Frances Quinn, her father's daughter with Hunter.

“She's my sister, and she’s just a really sweet, innocent little girl,’’ she said. “I certainly think of her as part of our family.”

John Edwards' eldest daughter: I was mad, 'devastated' about affair

Edwards had already endured the death of her brother Wade in a car accident when she was 14. Her world was turned upside down when her father confessed to the affair.

“I was devastated, and I was disappointed,’’ she said. “I mean, these are my parents. I had grown up with a lot of love in my family, and it was hard to see them go through this.”

Edwards ultimately forgave her dad.

“I don't think we ever went through (not speaking to one another),’’ she said. “We're a family of talkers, so we try to talk through and get through things. There was a time I was angry with him, of course, but we worked through it.

“I think it's easier to stay angry than it is to forgive someone. Forgiveness is the tough thing. Yes, it was hard but we worked through it.”

At the end of Elizabeth's life, John Edwards called to ask the family if he could come to her bedside. She said yes.

Read more: Cate Edwards on late mom: 'Everyone deserves an Elizabeth'

“It was important for him to be there, and he came to the hospital room,’’ Edwards said. “The three of us, especially, have been through so much together, so we garner a lot of strength from one another. I think that being together during that time, and also for the kids to have their family together during that time, it's incredibly important.”

Cate met Hunter early in her father’s presidential campaign but has not spoken to her since. In Hunter's book, she wrote some unpleasant things about Elizabeth Edwards.

Cate Edwards at her 2011 marriage.

“I thought it was a poor choice, I guess, is all I can say,’’ Edwards said.

John Edwards is raising his younger children, Emma Claire, 14, and Jack, 12, as a single father. She told Guthrie she highly doubts her father will run for office again.

“I think there is still good that he can do, but as a private citizen,’’ she said.

In October 2011, Cate married college sweetheart Trevor Upham, a surgery resident and cancer researcher. She is now hard at work on the law practice she started in Washington, D.C., and on the Elizabeth Edwards Foundation in Raleigh, where she's launched a program to pursue her mother's passion of helping underprivileged students.

"She really was in all facets of her life, starting at home, a great encourager, a great mentor,'' Edwards said. "I think that this really encapsulates who she was as a human being throughout her entire life, really encouraging people to reach their full potential.

Cate and her late mom, Elizabeth.

"I miss her in sort of big ways and small ways,'' she said. "It's big things that go by, like my wedding. She wasn't able to be there. And then there are small things. I mean, I get away with bad grammar. I never used to get away with bad grammar.

"I really miss her during March Madness, because she loved college basketball, and we were very superstitious. She would call me and say, 'Are you sitting in your living room, the kitchen? We're not playing well."

Family is still the most important important thing to Edwards.

"It's not that complicated,'' she said. "I love my family and I'm loyal to them and I care about them. Their pain is my pain, and that's as complicated as it gets."