TODAY   |  January 20, 2010

John Edwards admits fathering Hunter’s child

Jan. 21: For the first time, the former presidential candidate is publicly admitting he is the father of a 2-year-old daughter conceived with Rielle Hunter, a campaign videographer with whom he had an affair.

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>> they are, for sure.

>>> let's begin with the "today" exclusive, john edwards admitting he is the father of his former mistress's 22-month-old daughter. nbc senior investigative correspondent lisa myers has the details on this story. lisa, good morning.

>> reporter: good morning, matt. as you said, senator edwards ' statement had been months in the making, and it confirms what many americans have already concluded, that at the same time he was running for president, john edwards fathered a child . today, he is publicly embracing that child for the first time.

>> this way, senator.

>> reporter: after two years of scandal, deception and betrayal --

>> the story's false.

>> reporter: -- that destroyed his political career and wrecked his personal life , john edwards this morning is trying to right a wrong. are you speaking for the senator today?

>> i am speaking for the senator to the extent that anyone can, yes.

>> reporter: harrison hickman is edwards ' longtime close friend and trusted political adviser, coming forward to help deliver a message about francis quinn hunter, the child born to rielle hunter, with whom edwards had an affair.

>> the senator wants to say that, first of all, he is the father of quinn . secondly, he wants everybody to know that he has provided for her and will continue to provide for her, as he should, both financially and emotionally.

>> reporter: in a written statement provided exclusively to nbc news, edwards says, "i am quinn 's father. i will do everything in my power to provide her with the love and support she deserves. it was wrong for me ever to deny she was my daughter, and hopefully, one day, when she understands, she will forgive me." when he talks about the child , what does he tell you? how does he feel about this child ?

>> he talks about her being a beautiful child and a happy child . like any father, he talks about how it makes him feel when he's around quinn , which is, you know, very happy. i think he's very proud of this child .

>> reporter: this child is almost 2 years old. why did it take so long for the senator to acknowledge that he is her father?

>> it was a lot more complicated, i think, than most people think. there are a lot of adults involved, and i think they wanted to handle this the right way for jack and emma clair and kate as well as for quinn .

>> reporter: edwards ' attorneys say he's been seeing quinn and providing financial support for about a year and just signed a child support agreement with hunter. a spokesperson for elizabeth edwards says she learned last summer that quinn is her husband's child . today's announcement marks another chapter in the fall of a man once considered a leading candidate for president.

>> we're going to start changing this country now.

>> reporter: a man whose hubris and recklessness brought personal destruction. in this photo, edwards is seen with both his wife and his mistress the night before he first confided to his wife he'd been unfaithful, but when tabloid headlines forced a public admission of the affair with hunter, his campaign volunteeri videographer in august 2008 , he denied hunter's child was his.

>> i know that it's not possible that this child could be mine because of the timing of events. so, i know it's not possible.

>> reporter: did he know at the time that this was his daughter?

>> i don't know if he knew it was his daughter at the time, but i know he lied when he said it was not possible, and he knows he lied. you know, i think he is certainly regretful for that.

>> reporter: the senator also has said that the affair with rielle hunter occurred when elizabeth 's cancer was in remission. however, this child was conceived three months after elizabeth announced that her cancer was back and it was incurable.

>> you're right. i mean, there -- as he has said, he's been deceitful about it. he's lied about it.

>> reporter: elizabeth edwards is still undergoing cancer treatment and makes occasional public appearances about health care . she opened a furniture shop last summer in chapel hill , north carolina , not far from the family's mansion. how is elizabeth feeling with this new member of the family?

>> elizabeth thinks that he should acknowledge this. it's been a very difficult time for everyone, but for elizabeth i think more than anyone else . it's been a difficult time.

>> reporter: friends say john and elizabeth edwards have separated, at least for now, but still talk on a regular basis. edwards bought this house for quinn and her mother to live in in charlotte, more than two hours away from his home in chapel hill , which set the neighborhood abuzz.

>> i haven't heard anybody say, "oh, no!" but it's been like, oh, gosh. and then very we thought, oh, dear, the press will be here a lot.

>> reporter: john edwards now tries to stay out of the public spotlight. he spends time at his beach house and went to el salvador three times last year to help build houses for the poor.

>> he's done good, old-fashioned work. i mean, he's helped build hospitals, schools.

>> reporter: in his statement, edwards said, "to all those i have disappointed and hurt, these words will never be enough, but i am truly sorry."

>> he knows that saying he's sorry isn't enough, but he is incredibly remorseful about the pain he's caused people. he wants to be a good father, and you know, be a good person again.

>> reporter: edwards is not speaking publicly today, at least in part because of an ongoing federal investigation into whether campaign money was used to try to cover up the affair. he has denied wrongdoing. tomorrow we'll take a look at that investigation, matt, and at the former aide who now claims to have been at the center of that cover-up.

>> all right, nbc 's lisa myers . lisa, an extraordinary story. thank you very much.