The flashpoint encounter between National Enquirer reporters and John Edwards in July at a Beverly Hills, Calif., hotel was like a cloak-and-dagger stakeout straight out of a movie.
The pack of reporters had been on the lookout at the Beverly Hilton for hours. They had gotten a fresh tip that the former Democratic presidential candidate would be there — but after a while, they started having doubts.
They were starting to leave when, at 9:45 p.m., a BMW pulled up and Edwards stepped out.
According to the Enquirer, that’s when he went inside to meet his mistress, Rielle Hunter, and their secret love child.
Though the mainstream media have largely ignored the report until news broke Friday of Edwards' admission of an affair, reporter Alan Butterfield, who was on the scene last month for the Enquirer, told FOXNews.com that the story was always rock solid.
Butterfield said the sourcing was legitimate and the tabloid has the proof -– on video and in still photos.
"I've heard the blogs say, ‘Oh there’s no eyewitnesses,'" Butterfield said. "Well, here’s one right here."
Butterfield gave FOXNews.com a blow-by-blow of the stakeout.
When he looks back on it, he said, part of it was a blur, part of it was comical. In the end, he said, the legwork paid off.
"We had some time to implement a plan, and it went off," he said.
The initial tip came shortly before the rendezvous. The Enquirer had been checking in periodically after reporting last October that Edwards and Hunter were having an affair. In December, the tabloid reported that Hunter was six months pregnant with Edwards’ child. But no solid evidence of their relationship had been confirmed and an Edwards aide took responsibility for the baby's paternity.
So while Edwards was at a press event with Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, the Enquirer positioned a team of up to seven reporters at the hotel – where Butterfield said Edwards had met Hunter on at least one occasion before.
At about 3 p.m., Butterfield said, Hunter arrived in a car with her baby and associate Bob McGovern.
That was it for another five hours.
"We were worried, [but] I guess we had the tabloid gods … looking down on us," Butterfield said. "By 8 or 9 you’re doubting it, you’re going, 'Oh Jeez, this is ridiculous.'"
But then they saw McGovern walking around in the lobby, talking on a cell phone.
The reporters, who were communicating by phone, perked to attention. McGovern got in his BMW and left at around 9:20 p.m.
Butterfield said none of the reporters followed, so as not to "spook" him.
Twenty-five minutes later, the car pulled up again, and out stepped Edwards.
Their tip was on the mark.
Butterfield said he watched from about 50 yards away as Edwards looked around and walked to a side entrance of the hotel. Instead of going through the lobby, the former North Carolina senator went downstairs and hopped in an elevator, which took him up to the second floor, where Hunter supposedly was staying. Butterfield said he did not personally witness Edwards enter the room, but other reporters were stationed around the hotel to grab those shots.
After Edwards' entrance, the troupe sat through more downtime.
"We’re waiting, we’re waiting – for hours on end," Butterfield said. "There’s several different exits, especially at night."
He said the reporters tried to keep each other awake. They saw lights on in the hotel room, so that was encouraging.
Then around 2:30 a.m., McGovern walked out.
"We alerted everyone."
In a few minutes, Edwards followed. As soon as he got to the top of the stairs, he was ambushed with questions.
Why are you at this hotel? Does Elizabeth Edwards know? Are you visiting your love child?
"He had this, you know, [expression] like the world just passed in front of his face – he quickly did an about face, went downstairs and ran into the men's restroom," Butterfield said.
Edwards barricaded himself in the bathroom as reporters chased after him.
"He hasn't said a word, and we’re asking him questions," Butterfield said.
The door swung both ways, and Edwards was pulling on the door with two hands, while Butterfield pulled with his left. At one point, the door opened a crack and another reporter tried to get in but almost crushed his hand as the door smacked shut. Butterfield said they were able to see Edwards' "panic-looked face."
"Looking back on it, it was quite comical," Butterfield said.
This all happened in a matter of seconds. Then security guards passed by, on their way to help a guest who had lost the key to his room.
They must have thought it was a domestic dispute and asked what was happening, Butterfield said.
The reporters said, "In a few seconds," and one security guard tried to get into the bathroom. Edwards continued to hold the door shut until the security guard identified himself.
One guard went in, while the other waited outside.
Eventually, they escorted Edwards out and he wasn’t seen again. No cops were called.
Edwards initially refused to "talk about these tabloids. Tabloid trash is full of lies." He has previously refuted the Enquirer's allegations.
But, Butterfield said, "He sort of fed his own fire by denying it."
He said he was not surprised the national media had largely ignored the Enquirer's reporting on Edwards.
But compared with the New York Times story in February that suggested John McCain had a romantic relationship with lobbyist Vicki Iseman, Butterfield suggested this story is more solid.
"We actually had reporters there, we actually saw things," he said. "We actually sat around for several hours … and watched him."