(CNN) -- -- John Edwards was once a political golden boy -- successful senator from the South, telegenic, rich trial lawyer, but a spokesman for the poor, elected to the U.S. Senate in his first run for public office.
2004 Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry picked him as his running mate, calling Edwards "a man who understands and defends the values of America."
He was the strong husband who stood beside his wife, Elizabeth, herself a successful lawyer, as she fought a public battle with cancer.
After Kerry's loss, Edwards was one of the first out of the gate for the 2008 nomination, making his announcement in December 2006 with Hurricane Katrina-damaged New Orleans in the background.
The following year, the Edwardses announced that Elizabeth's cancer was back but that the campaign would continue.
By January 2008, he was out of the race as it became a contest between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.
But he was in it long enough to get entangled in a messy relationship with a woman hired as a videographer to document his campaign. It got messier when Edwards fathered a daughter with the woman, Rielle Hunter.
Edwards first denied the affair, then denied the child was his. An Edwards aide, Andrew Young, said Edwards persuaded him to claim the child was his.
"This was John's idea from the beginning," Young told CNN last year.
The story was a tabloid sensation and reached a sleazy low point when a video surfaced that reportedly shows Edwards and Hunter having sex. The video ended up in Young's hands before he turned it over to a court after Hunter filed a lawsuit.
It took months before Elizabeth Edwards learned the full extent of the affair. He admitted to the affair in August 2008 and finally in January 2010 that the child was his. The Edwardses were separated a week later.
Before she died last year, Elizabeth Edwards went public with her feelings in a book and TV appearances.
"Maybe it was that 30-year investment I had in my marriage. Maybe it was that I could not separate the flawed man before me from the boy with whom I fell in love in 1975. It does not matter now," she wrote in her book "Resilience: Reflections on the Burdens and Gifts Facing Life's Adversities."
Young wrote his own book, "The Politician: An Insider's Account of John Edwards's Pursuit of the Presidency and the Scandal That Brought Him Down," in which he describes an elaborate plan to use money from two wealthy benefactors to allow Edwards to maintain the relationship with Hunter.
The Justice Department has been investigating the Edwards campaign since February 2009. On Wednesday a source told CNN that the agency had been authorized to bring charges against Edwards. Those could result in criminal charges, but an indictment could be averted if Edwards' lawyers and the feds can reach a plea deal.
But Edwards won't yet be able to put the sleazy chapter behind him -- he's given one deposition in Hunter's suit against Young over material she says are in Young's possession, including the reported sex tape. A judge has ordered more testimony from Edwards next month.
CNN's Kevin Bohn, John Helton and John King contributed to this report.