John Edwards hasn’t stopped lying.
After many angry denials that he had sex with that woman, Rielle Hunter, Edwards went on Nightline Friday to confess that yes, he did have an affair with Hunter, and yes, he was caught by National Enquirer reporters while visiting Hunter last month at the Beverly Hilton.
But he was quick to add several caveats:
(A) The affair was brief; it started and ended in 2006. This was when his wife’s cancer (which is now terminal) was in remission, he makes a point to emphasize.
(B) Rielle Hunter’s baby, who was born in February, is not his. Because of the timing, “it’s not possible.”
(C) The affair happened after he hired Hunter, who had no real filmmaking experience to speak of, to film behind-the-scenes campaign videos for $114,000.
(D) He knows nothing about any hush-money Hunter has received.
(E) He knows nothing about where the National Enquirer got a picture of him holding a baby in what appears to be a Beverly Hilton hotel room.
All of these assertions are suspect. One is demonstrably false.
Start with (A). If the affair had been over so long ago, why was Edwards still visiting Hunter so recently? His answer is that he was meeting with her to convince her not to talk to the press. But why was he worried about the press?
The mainstream press, shamefully, had totally ignored the story, to the point that this is as much a media scandal as a sex scandal. The New York Times was happy to run vague innuendo about John McCain on its front page in February (the week before Hunter’s baby was born) but fastidiously avoided looking into the Edwards affair, which was first reported by the Enquirer in October 2007.
A McCain spokesman declined to comment when I asked him on Friday whether there’s a partisan double-standard in how the media handles adultery rumors. Readers can draw their own conclusion.
As for the Enquirer, it hadn’t run anything on Edwards since December. If the goal was to keep his name out of the tabloid’s pages, it was pretty dumb to risk getting caught in the same place with Hunter.
Why didn’t he just pick up the phone? And if the affair was over as early as 2006, why was Hunter still on the Edwards campaign payroll through April 2007?
If his claim about the timing of the affair is false, that of course undermines assertion (B), that Hunter’s baby can’t possibly be his. Edwards said on Nightline that he’s willing to take a paternity test. But read between the lines of the exchange:
WOODRUFF: Have you taken a paternity test?
EDWARDS: I have not, I would welcome participating in a paternity test. Be happy to participate in one. I know that it’s not possible that this child could be mine because of the timing of events, so I know it’s not possible. Happy to take a paternity test, and would love to see it happen.
WOODRUFF: Are you going to do that soon?
EDWARDS: I’m only one side — I’m only one side of the test, but I’m happy to participate in one.
WOODRUFF: Has Miss Hunter said, she does not want to do this DNA test?
EDWARDS: I don’t know what she has said.
That “I’m only one side” line sort of came out of nowhere, didn’t it?
It should have been no surprise to careful viewers of the Nightline interview that Hunter issued a statement through her lawyer Saturday that “Rielle will not participate in DNA testing or any other invasion of her or her daughter’s privacy now or in the future.”
Edwards seemed to be anticipating just such a response from Hunter. Rather than demanding a paternity test to clear his name, he explicitly tossed the ball into Hunter’s court.
Hunter response — invoking her and her daughter’s privacy — is a little odd if she expects the test to come up negative. How much of an invasion of privacy is it to prove that someone isn’t your child’s father — especially when you’ve already made public assertions about the child’s paternity on the record?
THE ASSERTION THAT IS definitely untrue is (C). Sam Stein of the Huffington Post has plenty of evidence that Edwards and Hunter knew each other for seven months before Hunter was hired by the campaign. Emails from those seven months indicate that the affair was going on.
There’s no mystery as to why Edwards would lie about that: It would be one thing if Edwards had an affair with someone who happened to work for him, but anyone who donated to the Edwards campaign has to be appalled to learn that Edwards hired this woman because she was his mistress. This moves the scandal beyond mere sex and into the realm of financial corruption.
Speaking of which, ABC News has confirmed that Rielle Hunter has received $15,000 a month to hide from the press in Santa Barbara, California. Her benefactor is Fred Baron, who was national finance chair to the Edwards campaign. Did Baron really drop all that coin without so much as a “don’t worry, I’ll take care of this” to Edwards?
(Also hiding in Santa Barbara on Baron’s dime: Andrew Young, an Edwards campaign aide who has claimed that he is the real father of Hunter’s baby. When Young moved to California, he brought along his wife and children. His wife is either really, really easygoing about infidelity, or she knows that her husband is taking the fall for Edwards.)
That brings us to (E), the photo of Edwards holding a baby. It’s probably not from the same night that Enquirer reporters confronted Edwards — the text accompanying the photos never says that it is, and his shirt doesn’t match the dress shirt that both he and the Enquirer say he was wearing that night.
Enquirer editor-in-chief David Perel has told the Washington Post that there was at least one other meeting between Hunter and Edwards at the Hilton. Presumably we’ll learn more. It’s become clear that the Enquirer has been intentionally holding things back and letting them trickle out slowly, the better to sell papers.
In his Nightline interview, Edwards repeatedly derided the National Enquirer, dismissing it as just another supermarket tabloid printing spurious rumors.
Now, it’s true that the Enquirer doesn’t adhere to standard journalistic practices. The tabloid routinely pays sources for information, which can invite mischief if sources are greedy and dishonest.
But at this point in the story, it’s no longer the supermarket tabloid that has the big credibility problem — it’s John Edwards.