Learning More About the Women of the John Edwards Trial

Last week, we wrote about the women of the Edwards trial, and how they each seem to fit into stock characterizations: the good wife; the frail, wealthy donor; the gold-digging, Medusa-esque mistress. But there's new information that changes things.

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Last week, we wrote about the women of the Edwards trial, and how they each seem to fit into stock characterizations, as if made for a Lifetime movie: the loyal wife; the brave, silent daughter; the frail, wealthy donor; the gold-digging, Medusa-esque mistress. There's a new bit of information to come out in the trial, and it shifts a few of these characterizations into a more human (less stereotypical) realm and a far more brutal one. As much as the characters in this drama can start to feel like just characters, they are real women with actual feelings and emotions. And just as Cheri Young expressed displeasure over her husband's actions, Elizabeth Edwards was not, it appears, the silent, accepting wife. She was angry—very angry—to learn of her husband's affair.

The New York Post calls this a "meltdown" (rather belittling, given that we know Elizabeth would pass away several years later of breast cancer). Further, is it really "taunting" your husband to confront him about his extramarital dalliance, an affair that's appeared on the front page of The National Enquirer, an affair he's promised you he would end? Via the Post,

John Edwards’ humiliated wife had a meltdown a day after his tawdry affair went public — hysterically taunting her husband by groping him and exposing her breasts in front of stunned campaign staffers, according to testimony yesterday in his federal campaign-finance trial.

An aide, Matthew Nelson, testified that Elizabeth "was groping and pawing" at her husband in the car en route to the Raleigh airport, and that she asked "Is this what you two do in the car when you are together in New York City?” She also reminded him that they were surrounded by staff, not friends when he said, of her reaction "not in front of our friends," according to the New York Times. Another aide, Christina Reynolds, said that Elizabeth was both upset and "vocal," storming off and collapsing "into a ball in the parking lot." After she calmed down a bit, she confronted Edwards again, this time showing her breasts (she'd had a lumpectomy in 2005). Reynolds said John "didn't have much of a reaction."

Elizabeth died in 2010, and while Cate, their oldest daughter, has stayed loyal to John and been with him throughout the trial, she reportedly fled the courtroom, crying, when this testimony began, revealing the emotion she must be feeling throughout, despite her general stoicism.

Rielle Hunter, the "bad woman," also gets an added shade to her character here, though it's a strange one. The testimony supports the idea that she was something of a loose cannon that needed to be controlled. Hunter had wanted to "release a flip comment that she had been 'abducted by aliens,'" according to Reynolds testimony, quoted by ABC News. "My concern was that if (she) was hedging on issuing a straight denial, we wouldn't know what she would do," Reynolds testified, though "Hunter eventually issued a denial without mentioning aliens." Another former staffer had warned Edwards against Hunter as a possible liability to the campaign, though he obviously didn't pay attention to those warnings. Josh Brumberger, whose testimony is quoted in the New York Times, said, “There was a lot of sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll, and astrology,” he said. “I told Mr. Edwards that Ms. Hunter looked a little nutty. I believe he agreed.”

While none of this is a smoking gun with regard to campaign finance violations (talk of Hunter and the related fallout comes up because part of Edwards defense is that he used the money to hide the affair from his wife, which is not, technically, a crime), these details do serve to reminds us of how little we knew of the real John Edwards at the time he was mounting his bid for presidency, how much was kept hidden, and how differently we feel about him, on both sides of the political arena, now.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.