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Report: John Edwards' aides had plotted to sabotage his campaign over affair

May 11, 2009 | 12:24 am

Democratic presidential hopeful former Sen. John Edwards and his wife Elizabeth arrive at a campaign rally in Ames, Iowa, Tuesday, Jan. 1, 2008 about the time Edwards aides were secretly plotting to undermine the campaign 

Speculation and chatter continued over the weekend on the motivation(s) for the terminally ill Elizabeth Edwards to have written her new book, "Resillience," and gone out on the promotional trail knowing full well her underlying message of survival would be overshadowed by questions and talk about her husband's affair with a campaign videographer. (We can't say her name, but it rhymes with Rielle Hunter.)

Last week EE went on the Oprah show, which no one does to duck public attention, especially among women. (Some may recall that Oprah was a major Obama booster.) When asked if she loved her husband, EE said that answering that question was "complicated." And this morning Edwards will appear on the "Today Show," surely igniting more talk. Which, after all, is what a book promotion tour is about.

We now know, for example, that when John Edwards confessed the liaison to his wife a few days after the announcement of his presidential candidacy, he led his wife to believe it was a one-night stand.

Which might help answer questions as to why she would continue to support him publicly despite the personal anguish she describes in the book.

Rielle Hunter films Democrat John Edwards campaigning in New Hampshire

In fact, three months later when the couple called a news conference to announce that her cancer had returned but that the campaign would continue, the tape shows EE indicated to Oprah in passing that she still thought the affair was an over-nighter, rather than months-long.

Now, we learn in a fascinating blog post from ABC's George Stephanopoulos that what the wronged wife did or didn't do with that knowledge was likely moot.

Several Edwards' staffers have told the ABC host that only in December, two months after the initial heatedly denied National Enquirer expose, did senior Edwards aides begin doubting their boss's denials and believing that the affair reports were true.

As close-knit and intimate as traveling political campaigns are early, that strains credulity, suggesting that no one in those crowded charter jets ever noticed a single glance of accidental affection nor any surreptitious early-morning hallway tip-toeing between hotel rooms.

Anyway, they say that believing then that the Edwards candidacy had become a long-shot bid, they did nothing to force the issue. But they now claim to have secretly developed an ironic self-immolating "doomsday" strategy in case Edwards' campaign gained traction.

According to Stephanopoulos, as loyal Democrats protecting their party from an autumn disaster, they agreed to destroy the primary candidacy of their employer by surreptitiously leaking the scandal news if things got going well for the trial lawyer and ex-North Carolina senator. As presumably political opponents would have done come any general-election campaign involving Edwards.

One need not be a political novelist to imagine how history might differ had those suspicious aides acted immediately, allowing anti-Obama Democrats to coalesce behind Hillary Clinton before Barack Obama won the party's Iowa caucuses. Clinton finished third there. Edwards was runner-up, his best showing. She went on to win New Hampshire, which would have given her considerable momentum moving on.

Not that any marital partners anywhere would ever relish such a retributive thing, but the perverse beauty of such news is that now Edwards himself can spend the rest of his days wondering which of those long-trusted aides of his were the ones plotting behind his back to return his betrayal in kind.

-- Andrew Malcolm

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Photo: Associated Press (The Edwards couple arrive at Ames, Iowa campaign rally New Years Day 2008, about the time suspicious Edwards aides were plotting to undermine any success he achieved.); Associated Press (Hunter films Edwards in New Hampshire).