John and Elizabeth Edwards Legally Separated

Couple discussed how Elizabeth's breast cancer would help in polls, says aide.

January 27, 2010, 12:27 PM

Jan. 27, 2010— -- With John Edwards' electrifying U.S. Senate win in 1998, it was his wife Elizabeth Edwards who captivated the nation. A strong, smart, resilient woman, she became one of her husband's greatest political strengths.

"He was young and good looking and charming [and] his wife did not fit Hollywood's central casting of what a political wife should look like. She was a little bit heavy-set. She was an attorney in her own right. She was somebody who was his intellectual equal, if not intellectual superior. She let people know that," said Democratic political consultant Joe Sinsheimer. "John was the dashing figure and Elizabeth was the anchor and that's the way they sold themselves to the people of North Carolina."

But behind their public persona as the golden couple, during his second run for president, there was another side to Elizabeth Edwards who was secretly dealing with the slow leakage of her husband's affair and her cancer diagnosis.

As a torrent of fresh details from the scandal cascaded into the media today, a source close to Elizabeth Edwards told ABC News that she and John are now legally separated. Under North Carolina law they can't get divorced until at least a year later. John Edwards is no longer living at their home in Chapel Hill, ABC News has learned.

"It is an extraordinarily sad moment, but I love my children more than anything and still care deeply about Elizabeth," John Edwards said in a statement released late today.

When Elizabeth learned in March 2007 that her breast cancer had returned, it became part of the couple's political calculations in his presidential run, according to Edwards' former aide Andrew Young who has written a tell-all book "The Politician." The book will be released Jan. 30.

"Once Elizabeth was diagnosed with cancer ... within 12 hours they were openly talking about how her cancer prognosis was going to help them in the polls," Young told ABC News' Bob Woodruff in an exclusive interview.

In a statement to ABC News, Elizabeth denied the accusation, calling it "unconscionable, hurtful and patently false."

Though the cancer had spread to her bones and was incurable, the couple made the dramatic decision to stay in the 2008 presidential campaign.

"The things that were most disturbing about the Edwards to me in these later years, was that nothing was sacred. They openly talked about [their son] Wade's death as one of their motivators for running and why he ran... They used [their children] Jack and Emma openly as campaign props," Young said.

Young was the senator's right-hand man for nearly 10 years. Zealously committed to the senator and his family, he made himself indispensible to the couple both professionally and personally.

In summer 2006, Young became aware of Edwards' affair with campaign videographer Rielle Hunter and was ultimately entrusted by Edwards to conceal it. The affair, Young says, began in February 2006.

Watch "20/20" and "Nightline" Friday, Jan. 29 to see Andrew Young's exclusive interview. Then tune in to "Good Morning America" on Monday, Feb. 1, when Young will appear for his first live interview.Visit the "20/20" Web site at all week for Young's account of the sex scandal and cover up, including:

Elizabeth Edwards Keeps Tabs on John

Young's accounts paint a portrait of Elizabeth as a controlling wife beneath a collected exterior.

At the beginning of Edwards' relationship with Hunter, Young claims Elizabeth was aware of her husband's previous affairs and developed an elaborate system to keep tabs on him.

"She would call his room in the middle of the night to make sure he was there. She would put up acronyms for whoever would call in so that a casual woman or whatever couldn't get through and she would change them regularly. She would leave instructions at the hotel front desk for a woman not to be transferred other than her into his room," Young told ABC News.

Young said she would even monitor the cell phone records of Edwards' staff.

"That's how he started using my phone, or he would call my phone and I would do a three-way call into Rielle's phone so that Elizabeth couldn't see that he was talking to Rielle," Young said. "She would call me and say, 'Why were you and John talking for an hour?' And I would say, 'Basketball.'"

Edwards also had a "secret" cell phone, according to Young, which was called "the bat phone." Young said he typically answered the phone and took the phone at night for safe keeping, but in October 2006, when Edwards returned from a five-day trip to Uganda with Hunter, Elizabeth answered a call and heard a woman's voice on the line.

"[Edwards] went to bed and Elizabeth answered the phone and didn't say anything and Rielle just started saying lovey-dovey ... They [the Edwards] had a knock down brawl … He said that Elizabeth made him call the number back immediately and supposedly end the affair. And, of course, he used my phone to call [Hunter] to tell her it was ok," recalled Young.

At that point, Young told ABC News Elizabeth must not have known who was on the phone because for "several months after that, Rielle's name was on the daily schedule traveling with the senator."

By the time Edwards formally launched his 2008 campaign, the presidential hopeful was living two lives, Young said: a comfortable one with Elizabeth at their newly-constructed Chapel Hill mansion, and a private one with Hunter ducking in and out of hotel rooms on a multi-state announcement tour.

At a December 2006 rally at Southern Village in front of Edwards' Chapel Hill, N.C. headquarters, the Edwardses put a smile and waved to the crowds. There was no sign that just moments before, the candidate's two worlds had collided.

Following Edwards' request to keep Hunter away from Elizabeth, Young said he brought Hunter to a bathroom he didn't think Elizabeth would use, but instead the two women came face to face for the first time.

"When I picked the Senator and Rielle up at the private jetport...they were already pretty tipsy from drinking alcohol. He leaned over very quietly and he said, 'Andrew, whatever you do, don't let Elizabeth see Rielle,'" Young said. "That was his big fear. I dropped him off and I took Rielle to the only bathroom that I knew would be open. As we were walking in, Elizabeth opened the door with a big campaign smile on her face to greet supporters, and she came face to face with Rielle."

After the rally, Young said he drove the Edwardses home in painful silence. According to Young, Edwards admitted to his wife that night he had had an affair with Hunter, but referred to it only as a one-night stand.

"He told her he had had a one-night affair...but that I had started having an affair with her after that," Young said.

Edwards told Young that Elizabeth's response was "violent."

"He told me...Elizabeth had kept him up all night fighting about Rielle. Any time that he would almost be asleep... she would...get like an inch from his face and start screaming at him," Young recalled. "I was told repeatedly by him that she repeatedly threatened to commit suicide because of this and because of past things."

Suspicion Consumes Elizabeth

Elizabeth insisted Hunter's contract be terminated. The next day, her six month contract with the campaign ended.

In an interview with Oprah Winfrey last spring, Elizabeth said that her first reaction was to have her husband get out of the campaign, but he argued that it would raise a lot of questions if he got out two days after declaring his candidacy.

"She didn't make the decision to terminate the presidential campaign. She had that power. She chose to stand in that courtyard and present a picture of John Edwards to America as the perfect husband who was standing by his wife during her cancer treatments and that was really a fraud that both the Edwards perpetuated on the American people," Sinsheimer told ABC News. "At some point, Elizabeth Edwards went from victim to co-conspirator in allowing John to continue to run for president."

Suspicious of her husband, Elizabeth began to demand answers out of Young regarding the affair. By April 2007, Young claims the she had effectively forced him from any real involvement in the campaign.

"Mrs. Edwards obsessed over what I knew and what I may have done. She called me over and over again, demanding information I wouldn't give her. If I didn't answer, she left angry messages," Young wrote in "The Politician."

"At various times she accused me of lying, cheating, and even stealing from her household. In furious fights, she insisted her husband fire me, which he couldn't do because he needed me to take care of Rielle."

Watch "20/20" Friday at 10 p.m. ET to hear the voicemails

For the bulk of 2007, Young says he acted as the go-between for Edwards and Hunter, arranging her travel, handling all related expenses.

As reports of Edwards' affair gathered steam, Young says he and his wife Cheri hid the pregnant mistress in his family's North Carolina home. With National Enquirer reporters staking out Edwards and Hunter, the Youngs and Hunter went into hiding.

In December 2007, when the National Enquirer published an article alleging that Hunter was Edwards' mistress and that the baby is the result of their affair, Young falsely claimed he was the father of Rielle Hunter's baby.

Elizabeth Leaves Youngs Threatening Voicemails

Young said Elizabeth turned her wrath on his wife Cheri, calling her, prying for more information, leaving her voicemails, yelling about Andrew's mistress and his responsibility, even threatening her life.

"Her first voice-mail to me was in January of 2008 ... letting me know that this is not Andrew's first woman ... at that point, I was just completely...scared," Cheri Young told ABC News. "She kept pressing and pressing and I said Elizabeth I am hanging up the phone now ... she said, Cheri, 'If you do that, I'm going to spend every one of my last living days making you pay for this... Then she threatened my life, and I hung up the phone, and I, I was just shaking ... at that point, that was in January. She knew...she knew something."

Hunter gave birth to daughter Frances Quinn in February 2008. After the birth, Young and Edward's relationship deteriorated.

"Elizabeth screams all the time at me about you ... and I take your side. You don't believe it, but I do. I was asleep out in the barn the other night -- [Elizabeth] won't let me sleep in the house -- and was sound asleep, and she comes in and starts screaming at me, like an inch from my face. I am going through hell," Young said that Edwards told him during a July 2008 meeting.

The Youngs say the voicemails from Elizabeth continued to haunt them.

Elizabeth Edwards told ABC News in a statement that she believed Andrew Young to be the father of this child until her husband confessed his paternity to her this past summer.

In September 2006, Andrew and Cheri Young were among those Elizabeth thanked in her book, "Saving Graces." But in May 2009, when her second book, "Resilience" was released, Elizabeth alludes to Young as her husband's obsessed fan and gave him the fake name of "Jim."

"Those with any fame or notoriety or power ...look at our lives, which from the outside in particular are pictures of joy and plenty, and they want it for themselves ...," Elizabeth wrote. "Their focus on achieving a style of life deprived them of any opportunity to achieve a purpose in life. They hurt me, and it still hurts, but whatever momentary pleasure they got, they didn't get what they wanted, and that must hurt, too. My life, at some level, is tragic. Theirs is worse; theirs is pathetic. I was still upset with John for allowing either of them into our lives, for being vulnerable to obsequiousness, for not kicking them out the door when they refused to leave."

August 2008, shortly after Edwards admitted to ABC News that he'd cheated on his wife, was the last time Young saw Edwards. Though the families live only three miles from each other, they do not acknowledge one another.

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