In early 2008, former Sen. John Edwards was on the road to the White House. With strong poll numbers and a second-place finish in the Iowa Caucus, Edwards was considered by many a strong contender for the Democratic presidential nomination. After Edwards suspended his campaign later that month, the charismatic former senator was reportedly placed on the short list for vice president or attorney general.
Publicly, Edwards stood united with his wife, Elizabeth, who campaigned for her husband through her battle with terminal cancer. Behind the scenes, an affair, a series of lies and subsequent coverups threatened to destroy his political aspirations.
At the center of this political and personal firestorm was Andrew Young, Edwards' right-hand man for more than a decade. When tabloid stories suggested Edwards had fathered a love child with mistress Rielle Hunter, Andrew did the unfathomable—the married father of three told the world the baby was his.
Now, Andrew is coming clean. In his explosive tell-all book The Politician, Andrew details how he helped his former boss carry on a two-year affair in secret. "I say all the ridiculously stupid things that I did to my family, to my wife," he says. "But one of the things that I did with this book is I tried to tell the truth about what modern presidential politics is like and how cutthroat it is."
Andrew says John Edwards was more than just his boss. "[My wife and I] had worked with the Edwardses and become close personal friends," he says. "I had volunteered for his Senate campaign in '97 and '98. And when I first met them, they were the most inspiring people to work for. I loved them."
Andrew says he and John grew closer as their friendship evolved. "He became like a big brother to me," Andrew says. "We went to basketball games."
Andrew's wife, Cheri, also considered John and Elizabeth family, and Elizabeth thanked the couple in her 2006 book, Saving Graces. "We did everything [for them]. Both of us. I would cook breakfast. Whatever he wanted, whatever they needed. When they came back from D.C. and didn't have a car, they used my car. I was without a car. Or Andrew was without a car. It was extreme. We never, never said no."
Andrew says he stood by John in good times and bad. "I had been with him longer than anybody," he says. "Any time he got into any kind of hot water and needed something, he called me."
According to Andrew, John began his affair with Rielle Hunter in 2006—10 months before announcing his candidacy.
Then, in December 2007, a tabloid photographer got a shot of a visibly pregnant Rielle. To protect Elizabeth, Andrew says John asked him to accept responsibility for the baby.
Andrew says he got the call while buying a turtle aquarium at the pet store with his wife. "He threw in what you'd expect—the presidency is at stake. Good versus evil," he says. "But the closing thing was, 'Andrew, Elizabeth is about to die.' ... He made us believe that Elizabeth was going to die within a matter of weeks."
Andrew says the conversation was surreal. "I was sitting in a minivan outside of PetSmart looking at him on the cover of Newsweek and it makes the argument about how he could win the presidency," he says.
Cheri says she was shocked when she learned of John's request. "He told me, 'Edwards wants me to claim the baby,'" she says. "I looked at him and simply said: 'Why in the world would you even tell me about this? You say no. We have done enough.'"
Later that night, Andrew and Cheri say they had a call with John and Rielle. "[John said] this was his chance. 'We've worked so hard. I'm so close,'" she says. "Then Elizabeth—he laid that on us. That she was very ill. She was going to pass very soon. He couldn't let her know this."
Andrew and Cheri had only 12 hours to make a decision. "We made the wrong decision on so many different levels," he says. "But we truly believed in John Edwards. I loved him like a big brother. I loved Elizabeth like a big sister. Does that make it right? Absolutely not."
Neither Andrew nor Cheri say they realized the heartache this would cause their family—or the fact that they were helping deceive the American public. "We didn't think about the consequences," she says. "America was fooled. We were all fooled."
After the photos of Rielle were published , Andrew's attorney released a statement saying Andrew was the father of the child. It also stated that John had no knowledge of any relationship between Andrew and Rielle. "I took the hit for them," he says. "[Then] within 24, 48 hours, in order to make the story seem more credible, the Edwardses and the campaign started saying derogatory things about me."
In truth, Andrew says the affair had been blamed on him long before he complied with John's plan. According to Andrew, Elizabeth found out about the affair before the tabloid photo was released. At that time, Andrew says John told Elizabeth he slept with Rielle once and that Andrew was the one having an affair with Rielle. "Which didn't make any sense because [Rielle] was traveling with him all the time, and I was at home in North Carolina," Andrew says.
Still, Andrew claims Elizabeth became angry with him. "Whenever she was suspicious of anything, I had become the one that she had come to blame things on," he says. "She insisted that [John] fire me, but he kept me because I was the fall guy."
When Andrew decided to take responsibility for the baby, he says his intention was to protect John, which was something he couldn't do for his own father. "[My dad] was a very powerful minister, and my dad was the one who got me involved in politics. And then he had an affair of his own that destroyed his career," he says. "There was a part of me that was trying to put Humpty Dumpty back on the wall to save them from what our family went through. Does it make sense? Does it make it right? No."
Though John was a friend, Andrew says he didn't feel comfortable telling John that the affair was a mistake in the first place. "Most friends aren't one of the most charismatic, powerful people in the world," he says. "There's a sense [in Washington] that once somebody becomes president ... that they can get away with anything."
Andrew says part of John's plan was for Rielle to move in with the Young family during her pregnancy. So, that's what happened. From late December 2007 until February 2008, the Youngs and Rielle, who assumed the name Jaya James, moved to California and lived under the same roof.
Although they shared a home with Rielle, the Youngs say they lived very separate lives. "I will tell you that we were not one happy family. But we made do," Cheri says. "We had our children, and we had to do for our children. We had to provide them the normal comfort that we have at our own house."
The one person missing from the picture, Andrew says, was John. Although Andrew says John kept in contact with Rielle, John distanced himself from his old friend. "Here we are living in California. We have no support group," Andrew says. "He didn't speak to me for three months."
Andrew says he called John the night Rielle went into labor. "I said: 'She's going to have the baby. You need to call.' He refused to call," he says. "It was like a switch went off. I realized not only am I disposable, [but] everybody's disposable."
On July 22, 2008, after months of silence, Andrew says John finally reached out. The night before, The National Enquirer caught John visiting Rielle and the baby at a Beverly Hills hotel. "He was bawling."
Andrew says he tried to calm John down. "[The Enquirer] claimed that they had pictures of them outside walking holding hands," he says. "And I said, 'Senator, please, don't make a comment until you know what they have.'"
In a last-ditch effort to continue the charade, Andrew says John and a member of his team asked Andrew to help find ways to deny the baby's paternity. "He asked me to steal a diaper so he could prove it wasn't his child," he says. "He also asked us to find a doctor that would fake the DNA results."
Andrew says he refused.
In an August 8, 2008, interview with ABC's Bob Woodruff, John admitted to a brief affair with Rielle but denied paternity of her baby. "That bizarre interview with Bob Woodruff fit into what he had told Elizabeth," Andrew says. "He told her that Rielle had made him come to the hotel room because I wasn't paying child support. And, she was going to blackmail [John] and come clean about their one-night affair unless he started paying child support."
Andrew and Cheri say they didn't watch the interview until eight months later. "It's just spooky. You know that every word that's coming out of his mouth is a lie. But he makes you believe it," Andrew says. "He had a capacity to make not just us but political pundits, people all across the world believe him. And I'm sorry for what we did, but I'm also sorry for these thousands of people who gave $10, $25, $50 [to John's campaign]."
Meanwhile, Andrew and Cheri say they felt trapped in California and wanted out. Still, they knew returning home wouldn't be easy. They had a partially finished home in North Carolina and few opportunities for income. Plus, they say John's team wasn't making it easy to go anywhere."We were controlled by millionaires and billionaires and three attorneys," Cheri says. "I was panicking. ... 'How are we going to pay for this [new] house? Where are we going to move? Our kids have to go to school.'"
In July 2008, Andrew discovered a tape at their house in a closet full of possessions Rielle had left behind. The tape featured John. "It's not an alleged sex tape," he says. "It shows him. It doesn't show Rielle."
Cheri says she can't give specific details, but can describe some of what's on the tape. "He is naked. He is performing sexual acts, and the woman is holding the camera. He is aware he's being taped."
Andrew says the video was shot before the election started. "He's having sex with a visibly pregnant woman while his wife is dying of cancer," Andrew says.
Though they've been offered money for the tape, the Youngs say they will not sell it. "So many people have said, 'Why have you just not turned over that sex tape?' That sex tape was my security," Cheri says. "Was I going to do anything with it? No. ... But I at least had something to prove what had happened."
Rielle Hunter has taken legal action against Andrew and Cheri Young to retrieve photographs and a videotape she claims were wrongly taken from her.
Hunter says, in documents filed with the court, the Youngs "have testified falsely under oath..." and "Their numerous statements under oath and to the national media that [the videotape] depicts a 'noticeably', 'visibly' or 'clearly' pregnant woman are entirely false. ... It is horrifying to me that my privacy has been so invaded."
A month after discovering the alleged sex tape, the Youngs returned to North Carolina. Cheri says their homecoming was not a happy one."This was the worst time for us," she says. "We are clearly taking a beating [with] stuff in the newspaper."
Throughout the entire ordeal, Cheri claims Elizabeth often left her voice mails. "I can't for the life of me understand the voice mails she left me," she says. "If she knew the truth, why would she target me? If she thought that Andrew was the father, why would she target me?"
Cheri, a nurse, says she still feels for Elizabeth and her family. "I'm very sorry that she does have a terminal illness," she says. "I know what they're going through. I feel that. I care for them."
When asked if hiding John's mistress was really a smart way to protect Elizabeth, Cheri says she thought it was when she agreed to the plan. "It was not the right decision. We know now; we feel horrible," she says. "We're paying the consequences for somebody else's bad behavior. It was our bad behavior in that we accepted to do this. We don't want any sympathy."
"Elizabeth's the biggest victim in all of this," Andrew says. "It's broken my heart that somebody who I considered my best friend lied to and then ran over me with a dump truck backward and forward. I can't fathom what Elizabeth has gone through."
Both John and Elizabeth Edwards have released statements saying Andrew's book contains false allegations and exaggerations. John Edwards claims that Andrew is motivated by financial gain and media attention.
Andrew says this ordeal has taught him what's really important in life. "When I started working for John Edwards, I had this viable world leader drop into my lap. I got seduced by the politics, the power, the money, the whole thing," he says. "If there's a lesson I've learned, [it's that] most of us already have what we want. Money doesn't help anything."
Now, Cheri says her marriage is stronger than ever. "We are so much closer now, and our family, our kids are wonderful," she says. "We came through it because we have always had a really strong love and trust for each other. We hit rock bottom, and we made it through."