John and Elizabeth Edwards Legally Separated

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

ByABC News
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.