Representative Anthony D. Weiner, a rising star in Democratic politics who many believed would be the next mayor ofNew York City, admitted on June 6 to having had inappropriate online exchanges with at least six women, and repeatedly lying about sending a sexually suggestive photograph to a young woman over Twitter in May 2011.
After a week of sometimes indignant public denials and insistence that he was the victim of an Internet hacker, a weeping and stammering Weiner, 46, acknowledged at a news conference that he had sent the photo of himself in his underwear to the woman, a college student inSeattle.
The six-term congressman fromBrooklynsaid he had broken no laws and would remain in office, calling the matter an “aberration from which I’ve learned.”
During an extraordinary 27-minute appearance, Weiner went on to describe a side of his life that he had kept secret from his closest confidants and family members, befriending young female admirers over the Internet and engaging in intimate sexual banter with them, sometimes sending them racy self portraits taken with his BlackBerry.
In one of the photographs, he is sitting bare-chested at his home computer, with a row of personal pictures behind him.
“Over the past few years, I have engaged in several inappropriate conversations conducted over Twitter, Facebook, e-mail and occasionally on the phone with women I had met online,” Weiner said.
The congressman said he had never personally met the women with whom he had corresponded. “I don’t know what I was thinking,” he said. “This was a destructive thing to do. I’m apologetic for doing it.”
Weiner’s political standing appeared in grave danger after his news conference. There was a striking absence of public expressions of support from his colleagues, and the House Democratic leader, Representative Nancy Pelosi ofCalifornia, called for an ethics investigation into his conduct. “I am deeply disappointed and saddened about this situation,” she said.
House ethics rules state that members should conduct themselves “at all times in a manner that shall reflect creditably on the House.”
Weiner’s public confession was prompted on June 6 when Andrew Breitbart, a conservative blogger and provocative critic of the left, followed through on a vow to publish photographs Weiner had sent to a woman online. As Breitbart began to unveil the photos one by one, from midmorning until early afternoon, Weiner’s staff seemed paralyzed, failing to answer questions or challenge the authenticity of the images.
In one of them, the congressman is pictured holding up a handwritten sign reading “it’s me.” He had sent it to a 26-year-old woman inTexasafter she had expressed skepticism that she was exchanging personal messages with Weiner.
In his remarks to reporters, he declined to characterize any of the specific exchanges with the women, saying he was respecting their privacy. “This isn’t anyone else’s fault,” Weiner said. His news conference at a Midtown Manhattan hotel was a singular spectacle: the House’s most pugilistic liberal, known for skewering his rivals in YouTube-ready bursts of righteous anger, appearing on live television as a penitent, teary figure behind a spare wooden lectern.
He explained, in a soft, clinical tone, that the online relationships with the women had begun three years ago and that several of them began after he was married in July to a Muslim woman Huma Abedin, a longtime aide to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, in an elegant ceremony officiated by former President Bill Clinton. Huma said that she did not see a problem with her husband such photographs and wondered what was the big deal about it.
While he emphasized his failings, Weiner strained to point out that there were lines he had not crossed. He stressed that he did not have physical contact with any of the six women and that he believed they were all adults.
Pressed about their ages, he responded: “Well all I know is what they publish about themselves on social media. Someone could theoretically could be — have been — fibbing about it, and that’s a risk.”
Weiner said he owed his most profound apology to his wife, who, unlike spouses of other misbehaving male politicians, did not appear at his side. “ “We have been through a great deal together, and we will — we will weather this,” he said. “I love her very much, and she loves me.”
The congressman said his wife had known about some of his previous online connections with the women. But it was not until June 6 morning that he told her that he had lied about the most recent incident, and had in fact sent the photo to the woman in Seattle.
It was a day of severe diminishment for Weiner, who has emerged as a hero of the left and a relentless troublemaker to the right.
As the event wore on, the members of the media grilled him about seemingly intimate topics like phone sex and whether he had used his government computer to compose his sexually charged messages.
Weiner, always a voluble figure, could not seem to stop talking, as if the questioning was somehow therapeutic.
The episode, with its hints of digital danger, echoed the swift political fall of Weiner’s fellow House member, Christopher Lee, a New York Republican, who e-mailed a shirtless photo of himself to a woman online. Mr. Lee resigned.
David Birdsell, dean ofBaruchCollege’sSchoolofPublic AffairsinNew York City, said it would be hard for Weiner to argue that his conduct was any less damning. “By the Chris Lee standard, these are offenses that merit resignation,” he said.
Weiner has long been dogged by questions about his temperament and maturity: Former aides have complained that he could be a bully, and the New York tabloids eagerly chronicled his dating life.
Even if Weiner remains in office, political consultants said his ultimate ambition, to succeed Michael R. Bloomberg as mayor, has very likely been extinguished.
“There is zero chance today of a Mayor Weiner,” said Hank Sheinkopf, a veteran political analyst. “Mayors don’t do these things. It’s too much already.”
Weiner’s ordeal began two Fridays ago, on May 27, at 11:35 p.m., when he sent the now infamous photo of him in his gray boxers to the college student over Twitter, assuming it would remain private.
When it appeared publicly on his Twitter account, Weiner, a technophile, panicked, went online and tried to delete the photo. It was too late: the image had been copied and distributed across the Internet.
Now powerless to erase an embarrassing image of his groin, with a slight erection, from the all-seeing eyes of the Web, Weiner instructed his staff to tell the public that somebody had broken into his account.
On Sunday, May 29, a spokesman told the news media that “Anthony’s accounts were obviously hacked” and that the congressman had asked a lawyer to advise him on how to proceed.
But he declined to answer basic questions about the origins of the photo, first in a testy exchange with reporters on Capitol Hill, and then in a series of increasingly fraught interviews with major news outlets.
Later, Weiner surprised reporters when he conceded that he could not say with “certitude” whether he was the man in the photo.
The next day, Weiner said that he would no longer discuss the matter.
Throughout this period, Weiner misled even those closest to him.
Over the weekend, he hunkered down at his home, skipping a Salute to Israel Parade upFifth AvenueinManhattan. Weiner had enjoyed marching in the parade for years and had pledged to participate in this year’s.
By June 6 morning, he simply staggered under the weight of the media attention, the impending revelations from Mr. Breitbart and his own deceit. He began placing calls to the closely knit team that has guided him through years of political campaigns and calculations.
He told them that he had lied to them, and everyone else, and had to make it right.
When Bill Clinton officiated at the Gatsbyesque wedding of Representative Anthony D. Weiner and Huma Abedin at Oheka Castle on Long Island last summer, the former president reportedly joked that marrying a politician can be difficult, because it is “easy to distrust them, whatever their religion.”
Less than a year later,Clinton’s warning has proved to be prescient.
The incident seemed all the more striking, given the congressman’s elaborate courtship of Ms. Abedin and her Muslim family, whose blessing he sought when he proposed marriage.
During his press conference June 6, Weiner seemed most choked up as he apologized to Ms. Abedin, 35, a deputy chief of staff to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, whose own marriage has been rocked by her husband’s sexual peccadilloes.
Abedin did not appear alongside Mr. Weiner, 46, during his news conference; instead, she put in a full day of work for the State Department.
“My wife is a remarkable woman,” Weiner said. “She’s not responsible for any of this. This was visited upon her. She’s getting back — getting back to work. And I apologize to her very deeply.”
Weiner and Abedin have seemed an unlikely couple from the start. They come from very different backgrounds — he is a Jewish man from Brooklyn, she a Michigan-born Muslim-American raised in Saudi Arabia by an Indian father and a Pakistani mother. And Weiner and Abedin have very different personalities.
He is a fiery, publicity-craving wisecracker with a reputation as a Romeo and a habit of turning up in the tabloids. He can be overbearing and intense and pushes his staff and himself unrelentingly.
She is calm, private and glamorous, with a sense of elegance that has earned her attention from fashion magazines. Her close friend Oscar de La Renta designed her chiffon wedding gown, likening her to Scheherazade, the beautiful queen from “One Thousand and One Nights.”
But they complement each other well, said friends of the couple, who described Weiner as a sweet, supportive partner. Abedin, a practicing Muslim who speaks fluent Arabic, does not drink, and Weiner has given up alcohol in solidarity with her, they said. He sometimes fasts with her during Ramadan, and often meets her at the airport when she returns from long trips, even in the early morning hours.
Friends say that Abedin had been courted by “a lot of very successful, important people,” but it was Weiner’s persistence and tenacity, as well as his confidence and sense of humor, that eventually won her over.
“I kept on hearing stories of how adoring he was of her and how much he cared about her, and over time it became clear that this was something he was focused on, and it was for real,” said a friend of Abedin. Ms. Abedin got her start in politics in 1996 as an intern in Ms. Clinton’s White House office, and has been her aide since. She and Weiner met when Ms. Clinton ran for the Senate in 2000, but did not start dating until Ms. Clinton ran for president 2008.
At their wedding, Weiner’s robust premarital dating life was the subject of considerable roasting, and Weiner made it clear June 6 that Abedin knew about his rakish past, including his use of social media for sexual communication.
Filed under: Clash of Civilizations | Tagged: Anthony Weiner, Huma Abedin | 2 Comments »