John Edwards, who won praise and sympathy as he campaigned for president with his cancer-stricken wife, Elizabeth, admitted Friday that he had an affair with a woman who produced videos for his campaign but denied fathering her child.
Dallas lawyer Fred Baron, who helped bankroll the former North Carolina senator's presidential run, told The Dallas Morning News that he paid for the woman, Rielle Hunter, to leave Chapel Hill, N.C., because she was being hounded by tabloids.
Mr. Baron, who was chairman of the Democrat's campaign finance committee in 2004 and 2008, said Mr. Edwards didn't know about his aid to Ms. Hunter. Mr. Edwards confirmed that, saying repeatedly during a television interview that he knew nothing about the payments.
He said Ms. Hunter and another Edwards aide, Andrew Young, who claimed paternity of Ms. Hunter's child, were being dogged by tabloid reporters chasing rumors of the affair and pregnancy.
"I made a decision on my own, without talking to Edwards or anybody, to try to help them move to a community to try to get away from those folks," Mr. Baron said.
He said he used his own money - not campaign funds - but did not disclose how much he provided. Both Ms. Hunter, who now lives in Santa Barbara, Calif., and Mr. Young worked under Mr. Baron for the campaign.
After having dismissed the story as "tabloid trash" only last month, Mr. Edwards came clean Friday in an interview with ABC News.
He confessed that he had lied repeatedly about the affair with the 42-year-old Ms. Hunter. Her daughter, Frances Quinn Hunter, was born Feb. 27 this year, and no father's name is given on the birth certificate filed in California.
Mr. Edwards offered to be tested to prove that he isn't the father. He said he told his wife and family about the affair in 2006, but "I had hoped that it would never become public."
In 2006, Mr. Edwards' political action committee paid $100,000 in a four-month span to a newly formed firm run by Ms. Hunter, who directed the production of four Web videos showing Mr. Edwards in supposedly candid moments as well as in a speech talking about morality.
Mr. Edwards' PAC followed the six-figure payment with two smaller payments totaling $14,461, the last on April 1, 2007.
At the time that Ms. Hunter was compiling the videos in 2006, Mr. Edwards was preparing his run for president.
Mr. Edwards released a statement Friday that said: "I made a serious error in judgment and conducted myself in a way that was disloyal to my family and to my core beliefs. I recognized my mistake, and I told my wife that I had a liaison with another woman, and I asked for her forgiveness. Although I was honest in every painful detail with my family, I did not tell the public."
Mrs. Edwards said it wasn't easy to learn about the affair but after a "long and painful process," his family is supporting him.
She said her husband made a "terrible mistake" but that the healing process was "oddly made somewhat easier" after her diagnosis of breast cancer in March 2007.
Mr. Baron said the entire episode was tragic.
"John Edwards is an extraordinary human being who made an egregious error," he said.
"I feel sad because I know John Edwards so well," Mr. Baron said. "In life we all make mistakes. ... It breaks my heart if this is going to disqualify him from being a public servant, because he would be a great one."
Mr. Baron said he had also talked to Mrs. Edwards.
"It's a hard time," he said. "This has been a trying couple of weeks."
Mr. Baron is founder of the Baron & Budd law firm. He and his wife, Lisa Blue, sold their interest in the firm several years ago.
He's well known for his support of Democratic candidates and is raising money for nominee-to-be Barack Obama.
Mr. Edwards declared his presidential candidacy in December 2006. His wife announced three months later that her cancer, formerly in remission, had returned and there apparently was no cure.
She and her husband said it was important for the campaign to continue. He dropped out in late January after it became apparent he couldn't keep up with Mr. Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton.
The National Enquirer first reported on the affair in October 2007.
Last month, the Enquirer said its reporters accosted Mr. Edwards in a Los Angeles hotel where he had met with Ms. Hunter after her child's birth. Mr. Edwards called it "tabloid trash," but he generally avoided reporters' inquiries, as did his former top aides.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.