Will former Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards actually marry Rielle Hunter, his mistress and baby mama, with whom he carried on a long affair even as his estranged wife battled the breast cancer that finally killed her last month?
The National Enquirer
-- which has been correct on several, but not all, key elements of this sordid story -- is reporting the former North Carolina senator's "secret proposal" in its latest issue. However, the Daily Beast reported Friday that an Edwards spokeswoman has denied
the Enquirer report. "I can tell you that it's not true," she said.
The tabloid, quoting an "insider," says Edwards popped the question after Christmas, "although they haven't set a wedding date yet." The two first hooked up in 2006.
"In an outrageous disregard for his wife Elizabeth's deathbed wish, John has proposed to his mistress just three weeks after burying
his heartbroken spouse," the Enquirer trumpeted.
John, 57, and Elizabeth, 61, who met in law school, were married for 33 years. Though she hoped for reconciliation, she walked out on him for good when he finally admitted -- after repeated denials -- the ongoing affair with Hunter, a campaign videographer, and the birth of Frances Quinn Hunter, now 2. Elizabeth said last year she did not want to be remembered as a "cuckolded wife."
In its Jan. 17 issue, which is already on newsstands in some markets, the Enquirer further reports that during a holiday getaway, John Edwards introduced his three children
by Elizabeth to Rielle and Frances at a Macaroni Grill near the Concord, N.C. resort where he'd taken his bereaved brood. The Enquirer says Hunter asked the younger kids to "call me Mommy." John and Elizabeth Edwards' marriage produced four children: Cate, 28, a Harvard-trained lawyer who lives in Washington; Jack, now 10, and Emma Claire, 12; their oldest child, Wade, was killed in a freak auto accident in 1995 when he was 16.
In an interview early last month with Jill Lawrence of Politics Daily, Raleigh lawyer Bonnie Weyher, a close friend of Elizabeth Edwards since law school, said she didn't know of any relationship between the children and Hunter
: "Not that I know of, no. That's not to say they won't in the future."
Weyher did say she knew Edwards had seen his youngest daughter, but she couldn't speak to his relationship with Rielle. "I don't know what the situation is. He's never discussed her with me."
The Enquirer, in its inimitable breathless prose, wrote that "The bombshell decision by Rielle to step into Elizabeth's still-warm shoes is a huge slap in the face to her memory, and a direct violation of her dying wishes, say those close to the Edwards family."
The tangled triangle has been playing out in the press since the Enquirer's first story broke. Hunter upped the yuck factor last spring by posing in a shirt and not much else for a lengthy interview in GQ
. She discussed her hurt when Edwards initially and vehemently denied paternity, and then renewed his wedding vows with his wife. Contrary to reports that he discussed marrying her on a Manhattan rooftop as the Dave Mathews Band performed, she contends "we have not spoken about any wedding plans."
On the other hand, she told GQ that marrying Edwards would be "the fairy-tale ending!"
Before anyone asks where the couple might register for silver and china -- Elizabeth changed her will shortly before her death, leaving all such domestic goods to her three kids -- John Edwards still has a federal grand jury probe to worry about.
Last month, two former aides from his 2008 White House run appeared before prosecutors investigating whether campaign finance laws might have been violated by transferring political contributions to support Hunter and baby Frances.
Enquirer Editor-in-Chief Barry Levine wouldn't reveal anything beyond what was in a copy of the story his office faxed to me late Thursday (the tabloid isn't available on newsstands in Washington until Friday or Saturday), and the on-line version won't get posted until Monday.
So I asked whether he thought he might be invited to the wedding.
"No comment," he replied.