WASHINGTON - One of the most sordid political scandals in a country chock full of them was back in the spotlight on Monday with GQ's interview with Rielle Hunter, the mother of an out-of-wedlock baby with onetime presidential hopeful John Edwards.
Posing for racy photos wearing a men's dress shirt and little else, Hunter breaks her silence on the affair that ended Edwards's political aspirations and ultimately resulted in his separation from the terminally ill Elizabeth Edwards, the mother of three of his children.
In the April issue of GQ, the 45-year-old Hunter discusses her adoration of the disgraced Democratic politician she simply calls "Johnny," describes the "force field of our love," and spills on attempts to have his onetime aide, Andrew Young, pretend to be the father of her child.
But the lengthy Q and A is most fascinating in how it touches on almost every cliche used by "the other woman" to justify her love of an adulterer by casting his wife in the role of villainess - Elizabeth Edwards simply didn't understand her man; he was terrified of her; happy husbands don't fool around; their marriage was toxic; Hunter's love for Edwards has made him a better person; he never lies to her.
She excuses almost all of his behaviour, including his renewal of wedding vows with Elizabeth Edwards after he knew Hunter was pregnant.
"Most of his mistakes or errors in judgment were because of his fear of the wrath of Elizabeth," she said.
"He's allowed himself to be pushed into a lot of things that he wouldn't normally do because of Elizabeth's storyline. And the spin that she wants to put out there. He was emasculated. And you know, the wrath of Elizabeth is a mighty wrath."
Hunter also reveals they slept together the first time they met, how "hot" she finds the former North Carolina senator, and how deeply in love they remain.
"You know, love is this mysterious force that you just don't understand. And it's uplifting, and it's bigger than you, bigger than us, bigger than everyone. We could not stop it. It was so big. And it's still big. It's astonishing. It surprises us."
Their love, in fact, has elevated "Johnny" as a person, she says, adding that Edwards supported her decision to talk to GQ.
"Everyone talks about how Johnny has fallen from grace. In reality, he's fallen to grace. He is integrated. He is living a life of truth. He has grown in awareness and humility. He had all these things within him, but they weren't the guiding, leading principles of his life. Now they are."
Hunter says that she and Edwards clicked immediately when they met four years ago in New York City.
"He in fact did say to me the first night, 'Falling in love with you could really (expletive) up my plans for becoming president'," she said.
Indeed, Hunter says, she advised him to get out of the race, but once again, Elizabeth Edwards was to blame by insisting he stay in.
"I was shocked," she said. "I really viewed it as reckless."
If Hunter's goal in granting the interview was to portray herself as simply a woman in love with a man who had long yearned for such a connection, the photos accompanying the piece aren't likely to do much to cast her in an angelic light.
In the sexpot photographs, a scantily clad Hunter poses provocatively among her daughter's stuffed animals and Muppets. In another shot, she cuddles her two-year-old daughter, Frances Quinn, while exposing her midriff and gazing seductively into the camera.
Hunter is upset about the photos, ABC's Barbara Walters said Monday on "The View."
Walters said she had talked to Hunter on Monday morning, and that Hunter had "cried for two hours" upon seeing the images and deemed them "repulsive."
Hunter had trusted the magazine's photographer, Mark Seliger, to take classy photos, Walters said. "I went with the flow," she quoted Hunter as saying.
"I could have cashed out big," Hunter also told the magazine, which didn't pay her for the interview. "But that's not what I'm about. I love Johnny and I love my daughter more than anything in the world, and I don't want to ever do anything to hurt them or hurt their relationship."
Federal investigators have been looking into Edwards' campaign finances for the past several months. Young has said a grand jury questioned him for hours about the large sums of money that changed hands when he was helping cover up his boss's affair with Hunter.
In the GQ piece, Hunter said both she and Young have been questioned by the grand jury, adding she doesn't think Edwards will be indicted.
"They asked a lot of questions about the sex tape," she said. Hunter has sued Young for invasion of privacy, seeking the return of a videotape that he says features Edwards and Hunter in a sex act.