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Oprah Winfrey grills Rielle Hunter about her affair with John Edwards

By Lisa de Moraes
Friday, April 30, 2010; C04

Rielle Hunter, Queen of Denial, went on Oprah Winfrey's talk show Thursday to talk about Johnny Edwards's "life of integrity."

"This whole journey has been so hard for me. I am a really private person," explained the woman whose affair with Edwards polished off his political career.

"I am very much a person committed to truth," she informed Oprah, sitting pretty in the living room of her three-bedroom home in Charlotte.

Right off the bat, in what was her first TV interview, Rielle wanted to make it abundantly clear that she is not a home-wrecker because "it is not my experience that a third party wrecks a home."

"You can't steal someone else's husband, you can't steal someone's wife -- it's not property," she explained.

Other people's perception of her as, say, a home-wrecker "definitely hurts a lot," she said.

She is perceived negatively, she said "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. It fits into their two-dimensional story line."

Rielle walked Oprah through the salient, succulent facts thusly: The unsuspecting professional videographer first encountered Edwards in February 2006, at which time he "practically jumped into my arms."

Actually, they spotted each other across a crowded public room in the Regency hotel in Manhattan, and there was "mutual staring going on," but nothing more.

She did not realize who the former Democratic vice presidential candidate was because, she explained blondely, "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."

When she left the hotel, he sidled up to her. "He was just so excited -- just lit up like a Christmas tree -- white lights just as bright as can be. And I just turned to him and said, 'You're so hot.' "

At that point she said to him, in her retelling: "I can help you." His acquiescence: "I want your help. I need your help."

"Help him do what?" asked Oprah, speaking for us all.

"See his authentic self. Be more his authentic self so people could see who he really was," Rielle offered.

"And how were you planning on doing that?" asked Oprah.

"I had no plans. None at all," she responded.

So Rielle rang him up at the hotel and wound up in his hotel room that very night, where they chatted about this and that, including how "he wanted to be more authentic, he wanted to live a life of truth. He wanted to change his life," she said.

He changed his life, all right.

Two days after he made his candidacy official, his wife, Elizabeth, discovered the affair when she found a cellphone Rielle had bought for Edwards -- it looked exactly like his work phone, in order to deceive people. Elizabeth called the number on the phone and Rielle answered, "Hey, baby!"

Rielle insisted she did think about Edwards's wife and his three children while conducting her affair with Edwards.

"I mean, it was very hard -- very, very hard," Rielle said, in re herself.

After Rielle had explained to Oprah about a gajillion times that she was a person who was deeply committed to the truth and being authentic, Oprah was finally driven to ask: "So you are 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?"

"Because he was available," Rielle said simply.

Rielle described Edwards as being "in extreme conflict" about running for president but "addicted to campaigning." She said Edwards caved in to pressure from his staff members. "Their paychecks and all of their livelihoods depended on him announcing -- and Elizabeth wanted him to," Rielle said.

In July 2007, Edwards and his wife renewed their wedding vows, even though he knew he had a bun in someone else's oven, by Rielle's account. They had never used birth control, she explained.

Rielle acknowledged that she thought it was a bad thing for Edwards to stand before God and retake vows he knew to be a lie, but she didn't think less of Edwards for having done that because "I understood where he was in his process," Rielle said, as she waggled her pink sandal on her big toe. Oprah, to her credit, did not roll her eyes and throw up her hands.

Though he was "gracious" when he found out she was pregnant, he became "very angry when she was photographed by the National Enquirer, while hiding out at Edwards aide Andrew Young's North Carolina home, Rielle told Oprah. She said Young then brought up the idea to claim he was the baby's father.

"Why did you, Miss Spirituality in Alignment With the Truth . . . go along with it?" Oprah asked -- a great line.

Rielle capitulated, she said, because she did not want her baby girl to grow up blaming herself for having kept Daddy from being president of the United States.

When Edwards told Bob Woodruff on "Nightline" in August 2008 that he had no idea who was the father of Rielle's baby, Rielle was devastated, she recalled. "Elizabeth really wanted him to do that interview," she insisted.

"He was trying to fix what had been broken. . . . He was trying to make his life one of integrity," said the High Priestess of Having It Both Ways. (We were not able to reach Edwards at press time.)

About that sex tape she and Edwards made: Rielle, a videographer by trade, says she thought she had destroyed it when she cut it in half and put it in a box the Youngs claim she left in their home, though she claims that they took it from her.

Oprah, understandably, wondered why she hadn't thought to, you know, burn it, or throw it away.

"That was the first thought now that to comes to me," Rielle answered.

Really, you can't make this stuff up.

She admitted another mental lapse: when she agreed to take off her pants for that GQ interview and -- gosh darn it! -- GQ used more than one photo of her sans pants, clad in a man's shirt, with a come-hither look on her face.

Her rationale for her state of pantslessness: She hated that the only photos the world had seen of her to date in this story were of her looking frumpy and pregnant.

"What I was thinking was," she ventured, "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."

And finally, poised in fuschia by her North Carolina hearth, receiving child support from Edwards, being interviewed on national TV by Oprah Winfrey, Rielle said she does not regret her tabloid-elevating affair with the married Edwards because "I learned a lot."

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