Edwards released a statement admitting paternity of the girl, Frances Quinn Hunter, who was born in 2008 to Edwards had long denied the girl, Frances Quinn Hunter, was his, even after he admitted cheating on his wife with the child's mother, Rielle Hunter. Hunter had been hired before Edwards' 2008 White House campaign to shoot behind-the-scenes video of him.
"I am Quinn's father," the 56-year-old former North Carolina senator said in a statement. "It was wrong for me ever to deny she was my daughter and hopefully one day, when she understands, she will forgive me."
The confession came ahead of the Feb. 2 release of a book by former Edwards aide Andrew Young that is expected to describe how Edwards worked to hide his paternity with Young's help.
Shortly before the 2008 presidential primaries began, Young stepped forward to claim that he -- not Edwards -- was the child's father. But there were suspicions at the time that the fiercely loyal aide was taking the fall for his boss.
Young said in an excerpt of an ABC interview released Thursday that Edwards asked him to arrange a fake paternity test.
"Get a doctor to fake the DNA results," Young quoted the candidate as saying. "And he asked me ... to steal a diaper from the baby so he could secretly do a DNA test to find out if this (was) indeed his child."
The scandal may not be over: Federal prosecutors in North Carolina are investigating Edwards' campaign finances, apparently with regard to Hunter, whose video production firm was paid at least $100,000 in 2006 alone. Edwards' political career lies in ruins. And a question mark hangs over his personal life.
Edwards' wife, Elizabeth, who has been battling an incurable return of cancer, said that the "whole family is relieved" by the admission and that she hopes it will put an end to the news stories. "My marriage shouldn't be on anybody's radar screen except mine," she said.
She declined to discuss the couple's marital status or what would happen next for them, saying: "If somebody has a crystal ball, they can let me know."
Hunter's lawyer, Michael Critchley, said the admission is "good for everyone."
In his statement, Edwards said of his daughter: "I will do everything in my power to provide her with the love and support she deserves. I have been able to spend time with her during the past year and trust that future efforts to show her the love and affection she deserves can be done privately and in peace."
He added: "I have been providing financial support for Quinn and have reached an agreement with her mother to continue providing support in the future. To all those I have disappointed and hurt, these words will never be enough, but I am truly sorry."
Edwards, who was also the 2004 Democratic vice-presidential candidate, was out of the country Thursday, traveling to Haiti to help in the aftermath of the earthquake.
The child was conceived in mid-2007, while Edwards was running for the White House, and around the time he was renewing his vows after 30 years of marriage.
Edwards initially denied that he had an affair with Hunter after the National Enquirer reported the liaison in October 2007. Later, months after he had dropped out of the race for the White House in January 2008, he admitted to the affair but declared that he could not possibly be the father of Hunter's child, who was born on Feb. 27, 2008.
Harrison Hickman, a longtime Edwards friend and pollster, said Edwards didn't come forward sooner because he had to work through issues with Hunter, his wife, his children -- and finally, a child support agreement. Since he admitted to the affair in August 2008, Edwards has largely gone into seclusion.
Hickman said poverty remains Edwards' chief cause -- it is the issue that he made a centerpiece of his 2004 and 2008 presidential campaigns -- but he has been doing his work overseas because of the scrutiny he faces when he goes out in public in the U.S.
"To say that life has been hard for John Edwards for the past year would be an enormous understatement," said Edwards' attorney, Wade Smith. "His life has totally fallen apart. It's been a very difficult time for him. He recognizes that he has been at fault."