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For the first time, John Edwards is publicly admitting that he is indeed the father of a 2-year-old daughter conceived with Rielle Hunter, a campaign videographer with whom he had an affair.
In a written statement provided exclusively to NBC News, the former North Carolina senator and Democratic presidential candidate says he’s taking responsibility for the child, Frances Quinn Hunter:
“I am Quinn’s father. I will do everything in my power to provide her with the love and support she deserves. I have been able to spend time with her during the past year and trust that future efforts to show her the love and affection she deserves can be done privately and in peace.
It was wrong for me ever to deny she was my daughter and hopefully one day, when she understands, she will forgive me. I have been providing financial support for Quinn and have reached an agreement with her mother to continue providing support in the future.
To all those I have disappointed and hurt these words will never be enough, but I am truly sorry.”
Harrison Hickman, Edwards’ close friend and personal adviser, spoke to NBC’s Lisa Myers on Edwards’ behalf.
“The senator wants to say, first of all, that he is the father of Quinn,” Hickman said. “Secondly, he wants people to know that he has provided for her and will continue to provide for her, as he should, both financially and emotionally.”
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. Hickman said that Edwards wanted to be honest about his child, but also wanted to protect his privacy.
“He’s not doing this as a way to try to bring attention to himself,” Hickman said. “He’s doing this as a way … to begin to put this behind, not just him, but everybody else who’s been affected by this.”
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.
Why wait more than two years to publicly admit paternity?
“He has acknowledged it long before now. The reason it has taken so long for it to become public is thatthere were a lot of people involved,” Hickman said. “There are a lot of adults involved, there are a number of families involved, and there are also a lot of kids involved.”
Fall of the man who sought presidency
Today’s announcement marks another chapter in the fall of a man once considered a leading candidate for president. Edwards’ personal and political troubles began after the tabloid National Enquirer began reporting in October 2007 on his affair with Hunter, now 45.
Edwards, who has been married to breast cancer survivor Elizabeth for 32 years, denied the affair at first. He called the claims “tabloid trash that’s full of lies.”
In 2008, after his failed presidential bid, Edwards eventually confirmed to ABC News that he had had an affair with Hunter, but he vehemently denied that he was the father of Hunter’s child.
“I know that it's not possible that this child could be mine because of the timing of events,” Edwards told ABC News at the time.
Now Hickman says, “I do not know if he knew it was his daughter at the time, but I know he lied when he said it was not possible … I think he is certainly regretful of that.”
Elizabeth Edwards is still undergoing cancer treatment and makes occasional appearances about health care. Last summer she opened a furniture shop in Chapel Hill, N.C., not far from the family’s mansion.
“Elizabeth thinks he should acknowledge this,” Hickman said. “It's been a very difficult time for everyone, but for Elizabeth, I think, more than anyone else, it's been a difficult time.”
“It was complicated … certainly more complicated than I knew,” Hickman explained. “He had to be able to talk to Elizabeth about it. He had to be able to talk to Rielle about it. He had to talk to us [and] his children about it. He had to deal with legal issues involving support for the child.”
Once the legal issues were resolved, Hickman said, Edwards “wanted to move forward immediately with letting people know about it.”
Hickman said he didn’t know the status of Edwards’ relationships with Hunter or his wife, but other family friends say John and Elizabeth have separated, at least for now, but still talk on a regular basis.
Hickman says that for Edwards, Quinn has the same status as the three children he has with Elizabeth.
“He talks about her being a beautiful child and a happy child,” said Hickman. “I think he’s very proud of this child. I think he’s proud of all of his children. I think, you know, today he’s glad to be able to say publicly that he is.”
‘He wants to be a good father’
Edwards’ admission comes on the heels of the political expose “Game Change” by journalists John Heilemann and Mark Halperin, which sent shock waves around Washington, D.C., with its account of the 2008 presidential election. A portion of the book that was excerpted in New York magazine dealt with intimate details of Edwards’ affair and his strained relationship with his wife.
But Hickman says that the book had no bearing on Edwards’ decision to go public.
“I don’t know that anything that it says could be any worse than things that have already been written by the marginal press,” he said.
Americans consider Edwards the “most disappointing” public figure, according to Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll results released in December 2009.
When asked about Edwards’ reaction to the poll, Hickman said, “If anybody knows that he’s been a disappointment, it’s John Edwards … He knows 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.”
Vidya Rao produced this story for TODAYshow.com