One-on-One with Rielle Hunter
An extramarital affair, an unplanned pregnancy, a paternity scheme, a sex tape and a presidential campaign may sound like the makings of a Hollywood script, but these events all contributed to John's fall from grace.
In 2006, few people had heard of Rielle Hunter, a videographer hired to document John as he campaigned across the country. Then, rumors of an affair began to surface. The media reported that John had cheated on his wife of more than 30 years, Elizabeth Edwards, with Rielle and secretly fathered a daughter named Quinn.
When Oprah sat down with Elizabeth, a mother of three battling an incurable form of cancer, she said she learned about her husband's affair in December 2006, just days after John announced his candidacy.
Elizabeth thought the affair was over, but in May 2007, Rielle became pregnant with John's child. Seven months into the pregnancy, a tabloid reporter snapped Rielle's picture, and their secret was almost exposed.
In January 2008, less than two months before Quinn was born, John dropped out of the 2008 presidential race. Later that year, John admitted to ABC News correspondent Bob Woodruff that he'd had an affair, but once again, he adamantly denied he was the father of Rielle's child.
Just when John's indiscretions started to become old news, Andrew dropped another bombshell in January 2010. In his tell-all book, The Politician, Andrew says he and Cheri found a sex tape John made with Rielle.
Rielle says the Youngs took the tape from her, but the one thing she doesn't dispute was that it's her and John on the video.
For years, the media has followed Rielle's every move and questioned her motives. Who is the real Rielle Hunter? Oprah travels to the North Carolina home Rielle shares with her daughter to find out. Here are selected excerpts from their conversation.
Rielle: No one thinks it's a good idea, but I feel in my heart that it's the right thing to do.
Oprah: Why did you want to talk now and you have not spoken before?
Rielle: A lot of it didn't feel right to speak before, and it felt more right after Johnny claimed paternity publicly.
Oprah: Johnny meaning John Edwards.
Oprah: You call him Johnny.
Rielle: I do. [It's] his birth name.
Oprah:: His birth name. And is that why you call him Johnny?
Rielle: No, when I first met him, I couldn't get the word "John" out, you know? He didn't seem like John to me. So I said, "This may sound weird, but can I call you Johnny?" And he said: "Well, that's my name. So, yes."
Rielle: Yes, I believe it's...well, it's not accurate. That's not who I am.
Oprah: Well, the intention of this interview for me is to find out who you are. So let's start with gold digger. Were you after John Edwards because of money? Fame? Attention?
Rielle: No, I was not ever after him. I met him, and there was a very strong connection, an attraction. There was no me pursuing, wanting something from [him]. None of that.
Oprah: Okay, home wrecker?
Rielle: Absolutely not. It is not my experience that a third party wrecks a home. I believe the problems exist before a third party comes into the picture.
Rielle: Well, because of the affair, and also because a lot of people bought into the myth of the marriage...the Edwards marriage as being a storybook story and it was so perfect and so wonderful, and I destroyed it. So it fits into the two-dimensional story line.
Oprah: Help people to understand, if you can, or help me to understand, because the world sees you as that person. You are viewed as the mistress who came in and stole the politician. So what do you want people to know about that?
Rielle: First of all, in order for that to happen, you must be invited in. People aren't property. You can't steal someone else's husband. You can't steal someone's wife. It's not property.
Oprah: So let's go back to how this started. How did you meet? When I interviewed Elizabeth Edwards last year, one of the things that struck me is she said she couldn't believe or didn't even understand a woman like yourself who could stand outside or stand at a bar and say to a married man, "You're hot." She made a point of saying that, "Who does that?" So I'm asking you, who does that?
Rielle: Well, I did.
Rielle: It happened because I saw him inside the Regency.
Oprah: A hotel.
Rielle: A hotel.
Oprah: What town?
Rielle: New York City. We were in there, and we noticed each other and there was a mutual staring going on. But it was just a connection like...
Oprah: Did you think, "Oh, there's John Edwards?"
Rielle: No, I did not know it was John Edwards.
Oprah: How come?
Rielle: I didn't pay a lot of attention to the Kerry/Edwards campaign. I had a lot going on in my life at that time. I wasn't big into politics.
Oprah: But he had caught your eye, and you had caught his.
Rielle: Correct. ... He was looking at me, and I was looking at him and he got up and left. Then my friend went over to who he was sitting with and asked, "Was that John Edwards?" And he said, "Yes, it was." I went over and started talking to that man, as well. His name was Tony. We went over to Tony, and I said, "I can't believe that was John Edwards. He's so hot." And Tony said: "You should have told him that. You should have come over and told him that. He would have loved to hear that."
Rielle: It was nothing. Another friend of mine came to join us, and I had no more thoughts of John Edwards. Zero. Then, we were walking out of the Regency to go get dinner, and then he came around the corner and saw me standing on the street. And he lit up. He was just so excited. I mean, just lit up like a Christmas tree. White lights, just like bright as can be. I just turned to him and said, "You're so hot." And he practically jumped in my arms, and I said to him, "I can help you." And he said: "I want your help. I need your help."
Oprah: Did you feel the connection that you had sensed when he was across the room?
Rielle: Times a hundred.
Oprah:: And what did he say to you?
Rielle:: I want your help. I need your help. And I said, "Do you have e-mail?" And he said, "No. Here. I'm staying here. Call me. This is the name I'm staying under. Call me." I said, "How long are you staying?" He said, "Until tomorrow morning. Call me."
Oprah: When you said to John Edwards, "I can help you," what did you mean?
Rielle: See his authentic self. Be more his authentic self so people could see who he really was.
Oprah: How were you planning on doing that?
Rielle: I had no plans. None at all. Just my heart felt I could help him.
Oprah: Did you know he was married?
Rielle: I did know he was married, but I didn't know what their marriage was like.
Oprah: Did you have that conversation about helping him?
Rielle: We had a very, very long conversation, yes.
Oprah: And what did you say?
Rielle: It's a very long conversation.
Oprah: Okay, well, just summarize it.
Rielle: Just about helping, and he wanted help. He wanted to be more authentic. He wanted to live a life of truth. He wanted to change his life.
Oprah: In all this time you're having this conversation, you're also feeling this heat, this vibe, this magnetic force?
Oprah: And you can sense that he's feeling it too?
Rielle: Yes. It was obvious.
Oprah: And so did you stay the night?
Rielle: I think that that now I say, "Okay, now fade to black." Here's the thing: This whole journey has been so hard for me. I am a really private person with my personal life.
Oprah: But you can just forget about your personal life being private because you've been so exposed.
Rielle: No, but here's the thing. I've been so exposed with a bunch of lies, because what's been said about me—all my personal life has been written about and exposed—the facts are incorrect. It was all incorrect. That also bothers me because I am very much a person committed to truth.
Rielle: A series of long conversations on the phone.
Oprah: How long?
Rielle: Hours. A lot, four hours at a time.
Oprah: So the next day, you're on the phone for four hours. Several days later, you realize what?
Rielle: I'm in love.
Oprah: What are you thinking about his situation?
Rielle: Oh, this is very difficult because ... being a person who's committed to truth and living a life where you're not hiding, it's almost like a cosmic joke to fall in love with someone who's living a big lie. I had such judgment about anyone living a lie.
Oprah: Did you think about his wife?
Rielle: Oh yes, definitely.
Oprah: Did you think about Elizabeth?
Rielle: I think about his wife and his children. And it was very hard. Very, very hard. What's so hard about it is that the power of the love does override all the issues that come up and all the judgments and all my: "This is wrong. What you're doing is wrong."
Oprah: The power of the love did that.
Oprah: So you are obviously a person who is on a spiritual path. You've mentioned truth here several times. What part of you could make that okay then to be with this married man with children?
Rielle: Because he was available. He wanted to be with me, and their marriage had problems for many, many years.
Oprah: He had already told you that?
Rielle: He had. He has been honest with me since our first meeting completely.
Rielle: On the morning of December 31, , she found the cell phone that I bought for him. And called [me], and I answered the phone. I said, "Hey, baby," and she hung up on me.
Oprah: You had bought a cell phone for him?
Rielle: I bought him a cell phone that looked just like his work phone so he could talk to me wherever he was and, whenever he was, people would think he was on his work phone.
Oprah: She hangs up on you.
Rielle::Yes. He calls me back a little [later] saying that it's over. "We're done. We're over." I assumed that she was standing there when he said that, and he was in a traumatic state. His worlds had just collided, and he hung up the phone.
Oprah: What did you do?
Rielle: I didn't cry. I had the thought: "What do you mean we're over? We're just getting started."
Oprah: But you didn't cry.
Rielle: Not then. I cried a number of times over the next few days.
Oprah: Okay, but you didn't believe...
Rielle:: I cried hysterically a number of times over the next few days. It was a terrible time.
Rielle: Yes, he was in extreme conflict about it.
Oprah:: Explain to me what that means.
Rielle: He didn't know if it was the right thing to do because he had personal problems and an inner conflict about having all these personal problems that could happen at any moment and an inner pull to wanting to serve. Plus he was, I believe, addicted to campaigning, and that was going on. And he had a staff who wanted him [to]—all their paychecks and all of their livelihoods depended on him announcing. And Elizabeth wanted him to.
Oprah: Did you think that he should run?
Rielle: No, I didn't think that. I think that he has a great capacity to serve. I'm conservative in that way. I believe in truth. I think you need to get all your ducks in a row and live a life of integrity before you step out into the public.
Oprah: Would you also agree, or not, that you were out of alignment, you were in contradiction, you were out of integrity with yourself?
Rielle: No, interestingly enough. That's what's just so weird about it. I followed my heart, and I believe it was the right thing to do, which is weird. I get how weird that is. I didn't make a commitment to Elizabeth. I wasn't the one lying to her, and I was supporting him in his process, and his intentions never wavered. I knew what he wanted. He just had a really unique [way of] getting there, to live a life of truth.
Oprah: And you had fallen in love with this married man.
Rielle: Right. So I felt like I would just continue supporting him and loving him until he got to where he needed to be.
Rielle: The end of May. I didn't know I was pregnant until July.
Oprah: At what point in there did John have the announcement that [he and Elizabeth] were going to renew their vows?
Oprah: So when John Edwards is renewing his vows with Elizabeth Edwards, he knows that you are pregnant?
Rielle: Yes, he does.
Oprah: How can you make that okay? You're pregnant, carrying this man's child. You knew it was his child, because you weren't seeing anyone else.
Rielle: I wasn't seeing anyone else.
Oprah: You knew it was his child, and he is making this public...
Rielle: We both knew it was his child.
Oprah: And he knew it was his child.
Rielle: Yes, he did.
Oprah: How did it make you feel?
Rielle: Terrible. My own judgment of someone who stands before God and makes a vow crushes me on the inside. I mean, just crushes me that someone can do that, that anyone can do that, because of the way I'm built. I could never do that.
Oprah: You didn't think less of him for doing that?
Rielle: No, which is interesting because I understood where he was in his process.
Oprah: Were you hurt?
Rielle: Yes, very much.
Oprah: Implied that you should get an abortion?
Oprah: So he was fully supportive of you having his baby.
Rielle: I wouldn't say "fully supportive." I think that he had a lot of issues with the timing, and it created a lot of conflict within him. It was not great timing from our perspective.
Oprah: Meaning he was running for the presidency.
Rielle: He was married to someone else. He was in the middle of running for the presidency. It's not great timing.
Oprah: Were you hoping you would get pregnant with his baby?
Rielle: I don't know consciously if it was hoping. I was so in love with him. When you're in love with him, that gets activated.
Oprah: Were you using birth control?
Rielle: No, we never used birth control.
Oprah: Then you knew it could happen at any time.
Rielle: I would have been fine if it happened. I was in love with him.
Rielle: December 12, , I believe, in North Carolina.
Oprah: You are now how many months pregnant?
Rielle: I think it was seven.
Oprah: Was John upset with you about that?
Rielle::Yes, he was extremely angry, and he screamed at me. He's not a screamer.
Oprah: Let's talk about how the [Andrew Young] paternity scheme came about.
Rielle: That was exactly in that moment. I was on the phone in Andrew's office, in Andrew's house. Johnny was screaming at me on the phone, and Andrew was sitting directly across from me. He said: "Just tell him I'll say it's mine. I'll say it's mine."
Oprah: Andrew Young said that?
Rielle: Yes, he did.
Oprah: You heard him say that.
Rielle: I heard him say that, and I looked at him like he was insane, like I was not even going to repeat it. [I thought]: "There is no way I'm going to tell him that. You are out of your mind, and that ain't happening. That was a bridge too far for me. You are not claiming paternity for my child."
Oprah: Well, you know, Andrew Young describes it a completely different way.
Rielle: Yes, I know.
Oprah: He says he got a phone call from John Edwards saying, "Will you do this?"
Rielle: Now, that may have actually happened. But this happened before that.
Oprah: Okay, you're saying...
Rielle: This was the night before that, so somehow Andrew spoke to Johnny after he suggested it to me. Because I didn't repeat it.
Oprah: So you're saying the idea for taking responsibility for being the father of your child came from Andrew Young.
Rielle: That's my biggest regret.
Oprah: Why did you go along with it?
Rielle: My biggest mistake. I made a big mistake to go along with it. It took me about three days to get on board. I was fighting tooth and nail. This was just a bridge too far for me.
Oprah: Then what happens? How is it presented to you?
Rielle: They came back to me and [said] Cheri had agreed, that I was the only one who was not agreeing. I couldn't believe Cheri agreed. How could she agree to this? She was my out. I really thought that that would be...
Oprah: That his wife is not going to agree.
Rielle:: Ever going to go along with that. Ever, ever, ever. And Johnny called me back and said, "Andrew says yes and Cheri's on board, and you're the only one who won't get on board." It was a horrid time, Oprah. Devastating. Devastating.
Oprah: When you finally said yes, you said yes because of what?
Rielle: Well, because of my daughter.
Oprah: At this time, you knew it was a daughter?
Rielle: Yes, which he thought that was great. But I thought that she had so many things against her. That would be a bad thing for both of them, a really bad thing.
Oprah: What would be a bad thing?
Rielle: If she at all blamed herself for...if he got out of the race because of her, me being pregnant with her. And [if he] always had that thing in his head, "I could have been president," and some blame toward her at all. And if she somehow flipped it in her head that it was her fault coming into the world. That was too hard for me. So that was the only reason I said yes.
Oprah: So you were thinking about your daughter when you said, "Yes, I'm going to go along with Andrew." Can you honestly say to me that there's no part of you that was also thinking about yourself in that?
Rielle: No, I didn't care. Something happened in me. Maybe it was there all along, but something in our relationship happened when I became pregnant. It did not become about us anymore. It became about her.
Rielle: March 19, .
Oprah: What was that meeting like?
Rielle: Filled with love, very emotional for me.
Oprah: What was it like for you watching him do that interview with Bob Woodruff?
Rielle: It was surreal. It was surreal.
Oprah: And he is asked directly, point blank, "Are you the father of that baby?" Of Quinn. And he lies about it.
Oprah: He's denied you, denied your child, lied on national television point blank, close up. What makes you think he's not lying to you?
Rielle: I know him like the back of my hand. I know when someone's lying. I can feel it. He's not lying. He's messed up. He was screwed up. He was trying to make his life one of integrity.
Oprah: Well, this is making no sense to a lot of people I'm sure. You're talking about him trying to get to his truth, and all we're seeing is lies and lies and more lies and more lies.
Rielle: Right, trying to cover and keep the way life was. "I'm trying to fix it. I've got to fix it. I've got to make it better, so I'm going to keep lying." ... It wasn't working. Life had changed, who he was had changed, who he is was changing.
Rielle: There is sex.
Rielle: I don't think there was a lot of thought going on in the heat of the moment. It was something behind closed doors that was private, and I believe should remain private. It was meant for that, and then, after the fact of doing this, because of being a public person and because of it being taped, we said: "Well, that was not a great idea. Let's do something to prevent anyone from seeing it." We don't want anyone to see our private business. So I took action to destroy the tape and kept it in my personal belongings so no one would get ahold of the tape.
Oprah: Did you think you had destroyed the tape?
Rielle: I did think I had destroyed it.
Oprah: What did you do to destroy the tape?
Rielle: I cut it, and I pulled it out of the casing.
Oprah: Why didn't you burn it or stomp on it or throw it in the incinerator?
Rielle: Right, that was the first thought now that comes to me, "Why didn't I burn it?" I have no idea why that thought didn't occur to me then.
Oprah: Tell me this. Was John Edwards upset with you that that tape had not been destroyed?
Rielle: I think he's as mortified or exposed as I am. I mean, it's not a good thing for either one of us. It's violating on every single level.
Rielle: What a mistake that was—huge mistake.
Oprah: It seemed like such a contradiction of what you're saying in the article.
Rielle: Not at all who I am.
Oprah: What you're saying you want us to see, you want us to see that you're not the home wrecker. You're not the flashy broad who comes in and takes the politician.
Rielle: It's not that I want you to see that. I want to express who I am.
Rielle: And you can see whatever you see. But I'm not those things, and the photos make you believe, or go along with that story line, that that's who I am. [It was a] big mistake. One I will never repeat again. Live and learn.
Oprah: I know I'm going to sound like Dr. Phil here, but what were you thinking?
Rielle: You know what I was thinking?
Oprah: Yes, what were you thinking?
Rielle: Here's what I was thinking.
Oprah: Because you actually have to take your pants off.
Rielle: Right. What I was thinking was, "I would like to have one sexy shot where the world can see me as a beautiful woman, as opposed to all those photos that are out there of me looking like some Wicked Witch of the West—the ugliest thing you could ever imagine." So there's definitely ego in that. Look where ego gets you.
Oprah: Big ego move on your part.
Rielle: Big ego move. Big mistake. No excuses, though. I made the mistake. I take responsibility for the mistake. It won't happen again.
Oprah: What did Johnny think about those photos?
Rielle: [He said], "Where are your pants?" He knew I was upset about them, but I think that he felt protective. He wished he would have been there to say, "No, don't do that."
Rielle: It's private. Because what we've been through, I need a boundary. We need boundaries on our personal lives.
Oprah: Does he know you're doing this interview?
Rielle: He does.
Oprah: How does he feel about that?
Rielle: He didn't think it was a great idea, but he supports me if I feel like in my heart I need to do it.
Oprah: Do you still love him?
Rielle: Oh, very much.
Oprah: Does he still love you?
Rielle: I believe he does. You would have to ask him, but in my experience, the answer is yes.
Oprah: Has he ever told you that he loved you?
Rielle: Oh, yes. Yes. It's my experience that he loves me.
Oprah: Do you trust him?
Rielle: Very much.
Oprah: Do you want to marry him?
Rielle: I'm not sure I want to get married ever. I've been married, and I mean, I can't say never. I don't know if that's something I want. I don't need marriage to define who I am. It's not a pull for me.
Rielle: All of their feelings that they're feeling and hatred that's directed toward me has to do with their fears or their anger and disappointment and sadness about their mother cheating on their father or their father or their husband or their spouse. It has to do with them, and it doesn't have to do with me, because they don't know me.
Oprah: Why can't it just be that they think that it's wrong?
Rielle: People can think that it's wrong for me to do that. They can think it's wrong for anyone to do that, but it still has to do with them thinking it's wrong. It doesn't have to do with me.
Oprah: What is the lesson in all of this for you?
Rielle: There's been a lot of them because I have become a better person from the process—more compassionate, more patient, more understanding, more aware. And so has he.
Rielle: I think Elizabeth has been hurt by this whole process. I think Johnny's been hurt by the whole process. I think everyone in his family has been hurt by the whole process.
Oprah: That was really good, but you didn't answer that question. Do you think you hurt her?
Rielle: Do I think I hurt Elizabeth? You would have to ask Elizabeth that. I don't know. I don't know the answer to that.
Oprah: Do you regret being a mistress?
Rielle: No, because I learned a lot. It went against every part of who I am and everything I believe, but I learned so much from it. So I don't regret it, [but] I would not repeat it.
Look back at Oprah's interview with Elizabeth
Go inside the home Elizabeth and John built together