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06.16.10

John Edwards in Exile

Bunkered in a gated community, away from friends and foes alike, John Edwards lives a lonely life. Diane Dimond on his personal angst, the dream home for sale—and his bar-hopping nights.

Bunkered in a gated community, away from friends and foes alike, John Edwards lives a lonely life. Diane Dimond on his personal angst, the dream home for sale—and bar-hopping nights chatting up single women.

John Edwards is a wanted man. Specifically, by the hapless legal courier who for the past few weeks has been trying to serve him with court papers to compel him to give a sworn deposition in the lawsuit his mistress, Rielle Hunter, filed against his former aide, Andrew Young.

“Let us know if you find him,” chortles Young’s attorney, Robert “Hoppy” Elliot. “Because we’ve been looking for him all over the place!”

On these forays, according to these sources, he liked to  chat up pretty single women, a glass of white wine in hand.

Elliot and his team have company. Since surfacing in January, when he went to Haiti in the wake of the devastating earthquake, John Edwards has literally disappeared from the national scene. Over the past two months, he receded even further, becoming a ghost even around the Research Triangle of North Carolina, which he calls home. Few of the people who worked for him as a presidential candidate have heard from him, and not even his lawyers return reporters’ repeated phone calls. (They also refuse to accept the deposition subpoena on behalf of their client.)

For the past two weeks, I’ve tried to piece together Edwards’ life in this self-imposed exile. According to multiple sources familiar with different parts of his life, it’s a lonely existence. With few real friends to turn to for counsel, he's also jettisoned most of his trusted advisers, including pollster Harrison Hickman. Those who’ve known him best say Edwards seems almost lost as to what to do with his life now that politics is no longer an option.

Elizabeth Edwards and the former presidential candidate’s two youngest children, Emma Claire, 12, and Jack, 10, continue to live in the family’s 28,000-square-foot mansion, on 100 acres in Chapel Hill. John Edwards, meanwhile, has been relegated to the nearby Hillsborough neighborhood, and a gated development called Red Lane, full of large, comfortable, high-six-figure homes, according to a real-estate source in the Chapel Hill area.

Diane Dimond: Edward to Testify About Sex Tape The only time he returns to the family estate, driving alone in his 2005 silver Chrysler Pacifica, is for visits with the kids. Those trips may not last: According to two Chapel Hill sources who requested anonymity, Elizabeth is considering downsizing, looking at properties in Chapel Hill’s historic Franklin Street area or in the neighborhood known as Meadowmont, euphemistically called “Wisteria Lane,” where all the women are blond, perfect hostesses and drive late model Volvos.

“Everybody in town assumes the mansion is for sale,” a local real-estate broker tells The Daily Beast. “While it’s not publicly on the market… you don’t look at other houses unless you’re ready to leave where you live. If a buyer with $5 or $7 million came along, it would be a pretty reasonable assumption that it would be for sale.”

John Edwards’ evenings have been just as complicated. Until recently, according to sources who include two members of law enforcement at a nearby police station, he sometimes frequented local watering holes, such as The Wooden Nickel and the Saratoga Grill. On these forays, according to these sources, he liked to chat up pretty single women, a glass of white wine in hand. (A man identifying himself as Kevin St. John, the manager of the Sarasota Grill, would only say, “I have no comment. I prefer not to be involved.”) But even those diversions have stopped over the past six weeks, according to everyone I spoke with.

During the day, Edwards’ biggest work project, according to a former adviser who spoke with Edwards as recently as a few weeks ago, involves huddling with legal advisers, strategizing how to stave off a possible federal grand jury indictment surrounding up to $1 million in presidential campaign funds that he is alleged to have diverted to hide Hunter during her pregnancy.

The status of that investigation is probably the biggest source of speculation in North Carolina legal circles. Several months ago, legal sources reported that the grand jury’s tenure had expired and its findings may already have been handed over to a federal judge. If that’s true, why would a judge hold the case for so long without action?

North Carolina attorneys with knowledge of the case speculate the judge may simply be holding the sealed decision at the prosecution’s request. Why? One theory, which doesn’t bode well for Edwards, is that prosecutors want to see what Edwards might say under oath during his deposition in the Rielle Hunter-Andrew Young case before unsealing the grand jury’s findings.

But another, very senior North Carolina legal source, believes the results are far more favorable for Edwards. Specifically, this source says, the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of  North Carolina, George Holding, is a holdover from the Bush administration. The Obama team has signaled that it won’t replace Holding while he is actively investigating two Democrats, John Edwards and North Carolina Governor Mike Easley, in order to avoid any appearance of partisan favoritism. (Easley’s case also involves allegations of misappropriating funds) It would look too much like a partisan move to remove the U.S. attorney now.

"It's to Holding's advantage to keep this case as a pending case because it means he gets to hold on to his position that much longer,” says my source. “There isn't any urgency for this U.S. attorney to finish up." If an indictment has been handed down, this source believes the public would already know about it.

“John Edwards has such a big target on his back,” the source says, “if they had an indictment sitting there, I'd think they'd have come out and announced it to the world!"

If this source’s theory is correct, then the Rielle Hunter lawsuit against Andrew Young is actually giving Holding an excuse to drag out the investigation against Edwards. That’s ironic, because many in the North Carolina legal community say the multi-millionaire Edwards has been bankrolling Hunter’s suit, given that she is an unemployed, stay-at-home mom with some of North Carolina’s most prestigious and expensive lawyers on her legal team.

Among Hunter’s demands: That Young give up all profits from both his bestselling book, The Politician, and the movie adaptation—a deal represented by hotshot Hollywood agent Ari Emanuel and in partnership with acclaimed screenwriter Aaron Sorkin and producer Scott Rudin of No Country for Old Men fame. According to a source close to the movie project, Sorkin is writing the script, in anticipation of a production deal in the near future.

As for Edwards’ future, his former adviser tells me that the former senator has mused about  starting a law firm “for the little guy.”

“His idea,” this former confidante says, “was to get a couple of associates, open up in North Carolina and look for a case to get started. He wanted to return to taking cases advocating for the little guy against big corporations.” The firm would be mostly pro bono, this source explains, with a few “big paying cases which would cover the overhead for the firm.” That’s not possible, however, until the possible federal case against him plays out.

In the interim, now that school has let out for the summer, Edwards expects to spend more time with his children at the family’s secluded beach house at Figure Eight Island, another gated community where privacy is easy to achieve and process servers cannot enter.

“After everything that’s happened,” the confidante says, “John really is a very attentive and loving dad.”

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Investigative journalist and syndicated columnist Diane Dimond has covered the Michael Jackson story since 1993 when she first broke the news that the King of Pop was under investigation for child molestation. She is author of the book, Be Careful Who You Love—Inside the Michael Jackson Case. She lives in New York with her husband, broadcast journalist Michael Schoen.