Rielle Hunter is his lover — but the kid is not his son. Er, daughter:

In an interview for broadcast tonight on Nightline, Edwards told ABC News correspondent Bob Woodruff he did have an affair with 42-year old Rielle Hunter, but said that he did not love her.

Edwards also denied he was the father of Hunter’s baby girl, Frances Quinn, although the one-time Democratic Presidential candidate said he has not taken a paternity test.

Edwards said he knew he was not the father based on timing of the baby’s birth on February 27, 2008. He said his affair ended too soon for him to have been the father…

Edwards said his wife, Elizabeth, and others in his family became aware of the affair in 2006.

Edwards made a point of telling Woodruff that his wife’s cancer was in remission when he began the affair with Hunter…

Edwards today admitted the National Enquirer was correct when it reported he had visited Hunter at the Beverly Hills Hilton last month.

The former Senator said his wife had not known about the meeting.

Stand by for updates.

Update: Who forced him to finally ‘fess up? The Enquirer? Hunter? The Obama campaign? Other Democratic power brokers? Mickey Kaus? Who, I ask you?

Update: This would be a fine time to revisit Kaus’s list of five reasons why the media should cover the story, paying particular attention to number four to see just how big of a bullet the Democrats dodged here and to the end of the piece, which shrewdly anticipates the coming spin:

I’m assuming we’re reaching the next-to-final stage of the natural progression in cases like this: 1) Too horrible and shocking; it can’t possibly be true; 2) It’s not true; 3) You can’t prove it’s true; 4) Why are you trying to prove it’s true? 5) It’s disgusting that you’ve proved it’s true; 6) What’s the big deal anyway?

Update: A detail I initially missed but which I’ve now added to the blockquote: “Edwards said his wife, Elizabeth, and others in his family became aware of the affair in 2006.” Obvious question: If the affair ended so long ago that he couldn’t be the father of a child born in February of this year, what’s he doing sneaking out to a hotel late at night to visit his old girlfriend?

Update: Deceiver notes that Brian Ross of ABC was digging around on the story. Possibly (probably?) what happened is that ABC somehow confirmed it and went to Edwards with the evidence to give him a chance to respond before they went public. Result: A monster exclusive interview. If this is how it went down, Ross is an exception to the sort of elitism that kept big media away from a story broken by the Enquirer.

Update: People in the comments are seizing on him saying he didn’t love Hunter but that’s obviously designed to limit the injury to his wife. There are, after all, three ways in which Edwards is still potentially exposed here: (1) if it turns out he cheated while his wife was sick, (2) if he knew about money changing hands, and (3) of course, if he’s the kid’s father. If his hands are clean on those then he’s “only” guilty of something millions of other men are guilty of. If they aren’t…

Update: Actually, here’s arguably the most corrupt element of the whole story: “According to friends of Hunter, Edwards met her at a New York city bar in 2006. His political action committee later paid her $114,000 to produce campaign website documentaries despite her lack of experience.” Also, Ace wonders how dearly loved a man must be by his friends for it to be “possible” that they paid off his mistress on his behalf without so much as telling him.

Update: Good catch by Media Blog. Edwards says his family found out about the affair in 2006, but according to the December 25, 2006 issue of Newsweek, Hunter was still “under contract” with the campaign. Would he really have kept her on after he told his wife given the unbelievable awkwardness that would entail?

Update: Commenters are noting that they saved the story for Friday afternoon. Not just Friday afternoon, though — it’s also day one of the Olympics. I wonder how long ago Edwards ‘fessed up to ABC and what conditions he placed on the timing of the story’s release in return for the exclusive.

Update: Why is it so important to Edwards to have people think the affair ended in 2006 even though, per the Media Blog item above, that’s unlikely? Spruiell explains:

Elizabeth Edwards was diagnosed with incurable cancer in late March of 2007. Rielle Hunter’s baby was born in late February of 2008. That means that if Edwards is the father, he was definitely still carrying on the affair with Hunter after he knew his wife’s cancer was back.

Update: Another interesting bit about the timing: Obama’s just starting his weeklong vacation. Doubtless this announcement was coordinated with Team Barry to get it out there when it won’t be a distraction to the campaign. This way, when Obama comes back next week, it’s already old news. Unless, of course, the media finds new evidence on any of those three areas of exposure I mentioned above.

Update: A spin unanticipated by Kaus: After resolutely failing to do its job by investigating, the media — in the person of David Shuster — decides it’s a victim here too.

There’s going to be a whole round for the next 24 to 36 hours of all the staff members who were telling all of us in the media, ‘don’t go for this garbage, the story’s complete nonsense, it’s complete bull.’ Well now these people are going to have to come out and make their round of apologies, and in the same course of doing that, in terms of their apologies to us, they’re going to rip John Edwards apart for misleading them.

Update: No one around Edwards knew anything, of course. Not a soul. Except, of course, the family itself and those super-keen friends of his who “possibly” gave Hunter money completely unbeknownst to Edwards. Cue David Bonior, former Edwards campaign manager:

David Bonior, Edwards’ campaign manager for his 2008 presidential bid, said Friday he was disappointed and angry after hearing about Edwards’ confession.

“Thousands of friends of the senators and his supporters have put their faith and confidence in him and he’s let him down,” said Bonior, a former congressman from Michigan. “They’ve been betrayed by his action.”

Asked whether the affair would damage Edwards’ future aspirations in public service, Bonior replied: “You can’t lie in politics and expect to have people’s confidence.”

Question for Bonior: Why’d you dismiss Hunter as campaign documentarian?

Update: From the comments, Tanya paraphrases Edwards’s point about remission: “I nearly lost the love of my life, the mother of my children. By the grace of God she has been saved and returned to me, and I will cherish her for the rest of my… Heeeey baby, how you doin’?”

Update: NBC supplies a scandal timeline.

Update: The pile-on begins. Politico flags Edwards’s take on the Lewinsky scandal from 1999:

I think this President has shown a remarkable disrespect for his office, for the moral dimensions of leadership, for his friends, for his wife, for his precious daughter. It is breathtaking to me the level to which that disrespect has risen.

Update: NBC talks to an Edwards aide privy to the ABC interview and returns with this scoop. You’ve got to be kidding:

Edwards said he went to the Beverly Hilton, where the National Enquirer claims to have photographed him, to meet not with Hunter, but Bob McGovern, a friend of Hunter’s, the source said, adding that this was part of Edwards’ effort to keep the affair secret.

He needed to meet with McGovern, and rather than have coffee with him or call him he decided to arrange a suspicious late-night rendezvous at a hotel where his ex-mistress and the possible mother of his child happened to be staying? Good work, Silky!

Update: Here’s what the Enquirer said happened at the hotel, to refresh your memory. McGovern supposedly was the front:

Rielle had reserved rooms 246 and 252 under the name of the friend who had accompanied her from Santa Barbara, Bob McGovern. Rielle was in one room and McGovern was in another with her baby. This allowed her and Edwards to spend time alone, a source revealed.

Edwards went out of the hotel briefly with Rielle, they were observed by the NATIONAL ENQUIRER and then went back to her room, where he stayed until attempting to sneak out of the hotel unseen at 2:40 a.m. (PST). But when he emerged alone from an elevator into the hotel basement he was greeted by several reporters from the NATIONAL ENQUIRER.

Update: Sounds like Brian Ross has been digging because he tells Politico the Enquirer’s story was — almost — totally accurate. Is it really almost totally accurate if they got the baby’s paternity wrong? Or is that one of the details they got right? Ross doesn’t say.

Also, Edwards may still make an appearance at the convention. Ahem.

Update: Bob McGovern, “Helpful Dude.”

Update: Here’s the statement he just released. Interestingly, he’s ready to call the Enquirer’s bluff and take a paternity test. Money quote follows. “Egocentric and narcissistic”? Our Silky?

It is inadequate to say to the people who believed in me that I am sorry, as it is inadequate to say to the people who love me that I am sorry. In the course of several campaigns, I started to believe that I was special and became increasingly egocentric and narcissistic. If you want to beat me up — feel free. You cannot beat me up more than I have already beaten up myself. I have been stripped bare and will now work with everything I have to help my family and others who need my help.