Former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina said Friday that he had had "a liaison" in 2006 with a woman who was not his wife. But he denied that he was the father of her baby, who was born in February, about a month after Edwards dropped out of the race for president.
Edwards, who no longer holds public office, said in an excruciatingly personal statement that he had lied in previously denying the affair and that he was "ashamed" of his conduct. He said that "over the course of several campaigns, I started to believe that I was special and became increasingly egocentric and narcissistic."
A successful lawyer, Edwards ran for president as a Democrat in 2004 before becoming Sen. John Kerry's running mate. Edwards formally began his campaign for the 2008 nomination in December 2006.
He and his wife, Elizabeth, created a human drama when they announced in March 2007 that Mrs. Edwards had had a recurrence of breast cancer but that they would soldier on with the campaign. In his statement yesterday, he made it clear that Mrs. Edwards, who became a hugely sympathetic figure, had been aware of the affair since 2006, saying he had told her about it in "every painful detail."
Edwards, 55, issued his statement after admitting to the affair in a segment taped for "Nightline" on ABC that was broadcast Friday night. The ABC News investigation followed months of reports by The National Enquirer, which first reported in October that Edwards had been involved with Rielle Hunter, a former videographer for his presidential campaign.
Edwards denied making any payments to cover up the affair but told ABC News that others might have made payments to Hunter on his behalf without his knowledge. A longtime financial backer of Edwards' campaigns, Fred Baron, told The Dallas Morning News on Friday that he had made payments to Hunter to get her "out of North Carolina and to get them into a stable place."
The revelations came as pressure was building on Edwards to address the matter publicly, not only from the news media but also from the presidential campaign of Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill. The Democrats are holding their nominating convention in two weeks, and while defeated candidates usually have a speaking role, Edwards associates said the Obama campaign was wary of scheduling Edwards to speak while he was under a cloud.
Edwards had been denying the tabloid reports for months, and major television networks and newspapers had not reported the allegations. But an Enquirer report last month that Edwards had met Hunter in a hotel room in Beverly Hills, Calif., gave the story new life, prompting newspapers in North Carolina to start to report details, and the story was gaining wide circulation on the Internet.
After his statement on Friday, Edwards called Bob Schieffer, a friend and reporter at CBS News, who asked him about the timing of the statement. Edwards said that he was being "dogged by tabloids" and that they would not let up until he addressed the matter.
Schieffer said he asked to speak with Mrs. Edwards, who then got on the phone, "obviously in tears," and said, "This is really, really tough." While Edwards had told his wife of the affair more than two years ago, he had not told her that he had met with Hunter and the baby last month in Beverly Hills.
Mrs. Edwards later posted her own statement on the Internet. "John made a terrible mistake in 2006," it said. "Because of a recent string of hurtful and absurd lies in a tabloid publication, because of a picture falsely suggesting that John was spending time with a child it wrongly alleged he had fathered outside our marriage, our private matter could no longer be wholly private."
Edwards told ABC that he had met Hunter because he wanted to try to keep her from revealing the affair.
The Enquirer reported in December that Hunter, then 42, was pregnant. While a former Edwards aide who was on his campaign payroll, Andrew Young, had said he was the child's father, Hunter had told friends privately that the baby was fathered by Edwards, the Enquirer reported.
In his statement on Friday, Edwards said he was not the father and was eager to take "any test necessary" to establish that. The Enquirer said Hunter was being paid $15,000 a month from Edwards, by way of an unnamed wealthy friend; Edwards denied that, too.
"I also have not been engaged in any activity of any description that requested, agreed to or supported payments of any kind to the woman or to the apparent father of the baby," he said in his statement.
He said the affair was for a "short period" in 2006 and ended before he could have been the father of the baby, who was born Feb. 27.
Edwards announced his run for president on Dec. 27, 2006, in New Orleans. He dropped out of the presidential race on Jan. 31 this year. He endorsed Obama after losing the North Carolina primary in May.
Mrs. Edwards was becoming active for Obama and serving on his health-care panel. John Edwards told CBS that he would not attend the convention. However, Edwards associates held out the possibility that Mrs. Edwards might attend and even speak.
Edwards' political career is almost certainly over, but it probably was over even before his revelations on Friday. As a vice presidential nominee in 2004, he failed to carry his home state, and his presidential campaign did not live up to its promise. He came in second in the Iowa caucuses, ahead of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, but he did not raise much money, never won a state and dropped out a month after the voting had begun.
Some of his associates expressed extreme disappointment on Friday.
David Bonior, who had been his national campaign manager, said Edwards had "betrayed" his staff by not disclosing the affair.
Contributing: Adam Nagourney, Julie Bosman