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Saint Elizabeth and the Ego Monster

Illustration by Nathan Fox  

No, Baldick’s concerns were that the project would feed the ego monster. For months, he used the project’s enormous price tag as a reason to resist signing her contract. But eventually, a big check came in from one of Edwards’s donors, and that gave John his trump card. “Now Nick can’t tell me no,” he said to Brumberger triumphantly.

By then, Hunter was already a constant presence on the road with Edwards. Who needed a contract? There was history to be made! All summer long and into the fall, she traveled with him everywhere. Nothing about it was secretive: Her name was always on the manifests, and even Elizabeth’s allies thought that Hunter was legit, that Elizabeth had probably approved the project, given her fascination with the web.

There was nothing legit, however, about Hunter’s behavior. It was freaky, wildly inappropriate, and all too visible. She flirted outlandishly with every man she met. She spouted New Age babble, rambled on about astrology and reincarnation, and announced to people she had just met, “I’m a witch.” But mostly, she fixated on Edwards. She told him that he had “the power to change the world,” that “the people will follow you.” She told him that he could be as great a leader as Gandhi or Martin Luther King Jr. She told him, “You’re so real. You just need to get your staff out of your way.” She reinforced everything he already believed, told him everything he wanted to hear.

Edwards swooned. He spent hours talking to Hunter, listening patiently to her ideas about the state of American democracy and advice on media strategy. (She had intuitions about Chris Matthews.) He ate every meal with her, sat next to her on the plane and in the car, offered to wheel her bags through airports. He told the staff to treat her like a principal. He behaved as if she were a combination of an adviser and a spouse. If Baldick suggested that she not take a trip, Edwards would resist. When Hunter wanted access to some event that Brumberger thought she shouldn’t attend, Edwards would order, “Let her do it.” Or plead, “C’mon, just let her do it.” Or whisper conspiratorially, “Just let her do it this one time.”

Elizabeth left a voice-mail: “You’re to have nothing more to do with this! You stay away from our family!” she said. “You are poison! You’re dead to us.”

It didn’t require a genius to suss the warning signs, and Brumberger was no fool. It took him a while to screw up his courage, but he finally did, knocking on Edwards’s hotel-room door one day that summer in Ohio.

I’m not accusing you of anything, Brumberger nervously said. But I need you to know there’s a perception out there that you have a different relationship with Rielle than you do with everybody else. I just need you to be cognizant of it, because your staff is starting to talk.

Edwards nodded and smiled reassuringly. I get it, he said. Thank you. Say no more. I hear you loud and clear.

Brumberger exhaled and walked out of the room thinking, Yes! Home run!

But nothing changed.

If anything, Edwards’s behavior became even more brazen. At the end of August, he brought Hunter over to the family’s new megamansion outside Chapel Hill. Elizabeth was up in Cambridge that day, dropping off their oldest daughter, Cate, at Harvard Law School. Hunter spent the whole afternoon and evening exploring the place, shooting footage of his family with her video camera, taking off her shoes, curling up on the sofa. She stayed for dinner with Edwards, the children’s nanny, and some family intimates.

Brumberger’s dealings with Hunter, meanwhile, were getting testy. Increasingly, she treated him and the rest of the staff as if they worked for her—and Edwards was doing nothing to stop it. On a trip to Missouri over Labor Day weekend, it had been decided that Edwards would fly back east on the private plane alone, with the staff traveling commercial. Hunter objected, demanding a seat on the jet with Edwards. An argument ensued. Edwards sided with Hunter. Brumberger was fed up. Arriving back home in New York, he picked up the phone and called his boss.

This is hard, Brumberger began. I don’t know how to say this, but I’m really worried about where your head is. I came to you in Ohio, I thought I got through, but the problem has just escalated.

“Okay,” Edwards said frostily. “Anything else?”

Brumberger was beside himself now. He flew down to Washington and met with Baldick; Peter Scher, who had been Edwards’s chief of staff for the 2004 general election; and Kim Rubey, Edwards’s press secretary. For Baldick, the alarm bells had already started ringing when he got a look at the first webisode produced by Hunter. It was filled with so much flirty banter and overfamiliarity between her and Edwards that it made Baldick cringe. When he and his wife watched it at home in bed on Baldick’s laptop, she turned to him at once and said, Oh, my God! He’s fucking her!