What little doubt remained that John Edwards is the father of Rielle Hunter’s baby evaporated Saturday when a lawyer for the former senator’s paramour issued a statement declaring that there would be no DNA test to determine paternity.
Little doubt remained because of a dog that has stubbornly refused to bark since the National Enquirer first reported in December that Edwards had impregnated the divorcee he hired as his campaign videographer.
That silent dog is libel law. Edwards is a famously successful trial lawyer. If the Enquirer‘s accusation had been false, the former Democratic presidential candidate would have sued, and a paternity test disproving the charge would have been Exhibit A in his case.
Hunter’s lawyer, in issuing his Saturday statement to the Washington Post, said that his client would not take a test because she “wishes to maintain her privacy” — a transparently flimsy excuse. Protestations about privacy are dubious, coming from a woman who spent more than a decade pursuing a Hollywood career, and the Enquirer‘s reporting, if false, would be equally libelous of her.
In his own statement Friday admitting the affair, and claiming that it had ended in 2006, Edwards declared himself “willing to take any test necessary” to disprove his paternity of Frances Quinn Hunter. Almost immediately, ABC News reported that Rielle Hunter’s younger sister challenged the Democrat to do so, saying, “Somebody must stand up and defend my sister.”
Hunter’s daughter was born Feb. 27; allowing a typical 40 weeks for full-term gestation, this means a conception date around May 23, 2007. To say that Edwards fathered her child is to say that Hunter was the sort of woman who would continue an affair with the married former North Carolina senator a full two months after his wife, Elizabeth Edwards, announced that her breast cancer had recurred.
In December, after the Enquirer reported Hunter’s pregnancy, she issued a statement denouncing the story as “innuendo and lies,” and Edwards campaign staffer Andrew Young issued a statement claiming to be the baby’s father. Young’s paternity claim wasn’t offered until after the Edwards campaign’s former director of operations was confronted by an Enquirer reporter outside the rental home in North Carolina where Hunter was living, prompting one “political insider” to tell the tabloid, “If you have an alternate explanation for a scandal, you don’t take 24 hours to offer that explanation, let alone days or weeks.”
Tabloid Facts vs. Edwards Lies
From the moment the Enquirer reported the Edwards affair — in an October article that didn’t identify Hunter or mention her pregnancy — the scandal has followed a consistent pattern: Edwards and his defenders lie and deny, while the Enquirer is always proven right on the facts.
Despite the Democrat’s denunciations, the “tabloid trash” clearly has the better record of truth-telling, and never once has Edwards — or any lawyer for Hunter or Young — gone to court to contest the Enquirer‘s reporting. Why? Because filing a civil action for libel would put the Edwards camp into the legal process known as “discovery,” where the Enquirer‘s lawyers could require Edwards, Hunter, and anyone else involved to provide whatever documents and other information were relevant to the facts of case. Sworn depositions would be taken under penalty of perjury.
Having spent several months engaging in an elaborate cover-up of his wrongdoing, Edwards is in no position to withstand the scrutiny of the discovery process, which would make the whole thing — every e-mail, every phone message, every canceled check — a matter of public record. Any attempt to hide or destroy evidence would be grounds for a charge of contempt or obstruction of justice. And DNA testing to determine the paternity of Rielle Hunter’s baby would be mandated by court order.
While questions about the scandal continue to multiply (what, for instance, was the role of Dallas lawyer Fred Barton), probably the most shocking revelation so far is what the Hunter affair demonstrates about the flawed judgment of Edwards, a man who four years ago was nominated to be next in line as commander-in-chief.
Edwards met Hunter in the bar of the Regency Hotel in 2005, and within months the Edwards campaign was paying her more than $100,000 to produce Web videos purporting to offer a behind-the-scenes look at the “real John Edwards” — not to be confused with the John Edwards who was even then cheating on his wife with the videographer.
The Party Girl
What kind of woman had the Democratic presidential contender gotten himself involved with? A notorious ‘80s party girl whom novelist Jay McInerny recalls as abusing cocaine and credit cards with equal abandon, college dropout Lisa Druck left New York for Hollywood, where she married a successful attorney in 1991.
She seems to have spent the next decade vainly pursuing a career in the film industry while also seeking New Age spiritual enlightenment. She changed her name to “Rielle” in 1994 and her marriage ended in a 2000 divorce, with her husband ordered to pay her more than $100,000 in alimony over the course of two years.
If that thumbnail biography creates an impression of Rielle Hunter as ditsy and unserious, it’s an impression widely shared by those who know her. “She is dumb and uninformed except on New Age stuff and astrology,” one of Hunter’s California acquaintances told me.
Nor was she considered a beauty by California standards. “Trust me, you wouldn’t even have noticed her,” said the acquaintance, who first met Hunter about five years before Edwards encountered her in that New York bar.
Newsweek reporter Richard Darman described her as having “frizzy blond hair with dark roots” and “bright nail polish” when he first encountered her in Edwards’ campaign entourage in 2006. She went out of her way to befriend Darman, confirming the most glaring of Hunter’s weaknesses as a political mistress — her craving for publicity and her lack of discretion.
Her affair with Edwards was hardly a well-kept secret among her gossipy friends. “Everybody knew,” the California acquaintance said. Thus, the Enquirer had little trouble finding sources privy to the details of the affair, and of the cover-up effort by Edwards and his associates.
Last month’s fateful rendezvous with Edwards at the Beverly Hilton — which found Hunter escorted by her longtime New Age mentor, Bob McGovern, while Edwards dodged Enquirer reporters downstairs — only confirmed the truth her California friends had known for months. None of those friends are buying the Edwards claim that Young (himself a married father of three) is the father of baby Frances.
What Did Elizabeth Know?
If those who know Rielle Hunter have no question that the Enquirer ‘s reporting is accurate, they nonetheless have questions. How much did Elizabeth Edwards know about her husband’s machinations to keep his affair secret? Indeed, some suspect the candidate’s cancer-stricken spouse may have been heavily involved in orchestrating the cover-up. And why was Young apparently willing to sacrifice his own reputation to maintain the reputation of a fool like Edwards?
It is unlikely that these questions will remain unanswered for long. What the Edwardses must fear now is that Rielle Hunter will wise up and recognize that she is a woman done wrong, who has more to gain from honesty (and the legal system) than from continuing to participate in a politically-motivated charade on behalf of a man who has no political future. Once she sues Edwards for child support — and sells Hollywood the film rights to her story — the facts will tumble down like an avalanche in an L.A. earthquake.
The astounding thing is that Edwards, a brilliant lawyer, knew the legal jeopardy involved in his affair from the moment it began. And the frightening thing is how close he came to achieving the pinnacle of power. Four years ago, this man came within 18 Electoral College votes of being vice president. In September 2007 — before the Enquirer‘s first story about Rielle Hunter — an L.A. Times poll showed Edwards in second place in both Iowa and New Hampshire.
In conversations with Newsweek‘s Darman, Hunter spoke in New Age jargon of her spiritual affinity for Edwards, and perhaps this hit closer to the truth than even she realized. They’re both wannabes, destined to become has-beens.
At this point, the tabloids could print the wildest gossip about Edwards without fear of libel litigation. The facts, however, are damning enough.