US solon named Weiner admits to photos of crotch
NEW YORK—Capping a week of tabloid headlines and snide remarks from late-night TV jokesters, a US congressman on Monday admitted to sexting with at least six women over the years and repeatedly lying about sending a lewd photo of his underwear-clad crotch to a young woman over Twitter last month.
In a turnaround from his silly denials (“I can’t be sure with any certitude if that [crotch] photo is of me”), a weeping and stammering Rep. Anthony D. Weiner acknowledged in a televised news conference that he had sent the close-up photo of himself in his underwear to the woman, a college student in Seattle.
“The picture was of me and I sent it,” said Weiner, 46, who called the matter an “aberration from which I’ve learned.”
Still, the six-term congressman from Brooklyn and rising star in Democratic politics who many believed would be the next mayor of New York City, said he had broken no law and would remain in office.
During an extraordinary 27-minute appearance, he 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.”
More lewd photos
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.
Weiner’s public confession was prompted on Monday when Andrew Breitbart, a conservative blogger and provocative critic of the Left, followed through on a vow to publish photographs that the congressman 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 the photos, the congressman is pictured holding up a handwritten sign reading “it’s me.” He had sent it to a 26-year-old woman in Texas after she had expressed skepticism that she was exchanging personal messages with Weiner.
Weiner’s news conference at a 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 his online relationships with the women started three years ago and that several of them began after he was married in July to Huma Abedin, a longtime aide to US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, in an elegant ceremony officiated by no less than former President Bill Clinton.
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.
Apology to wife
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 Monday morning that he told her that he had lied about the most recent incident and had, in fact, sent the photo to the college student in Seattle.
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—supposedly 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 from the all-seeing eyes of the Internet, Weiner instructed his staff to tell the public that somebody had broken into his account.
On May 29, a spokesperson 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.
On Wednesday, Weiner surprised reporters when he conceded that he could not say with “certitude” whether he was the man in the photo. On Thursday, 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 up Fifth Avenue in Manhattan. Weiner had enjoyed marching in the parade for years and had pledged to participate in this year’s.
By Monday morning, he simply staggered under the weight of the media attention, the impending revelations from 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 the members of his team that he had lied to them, and everyone else, and had to make it right.
In grave danger
The clean-cut, fast-talking Weiner has long been tabloid fodder—thanks to his name. The word “weiner,” a type of sausage, is also a slang term for penis.
The underpants crisis, however, put him in a career-threatening twist. According to analysts, his political standing appears 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, Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California, called for an ethics investigation of 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.”
With his admission, Weiner—the son of a schoolteacher who as a politician has played up his middle-class, not-so-privileged upbringing—becomes the third New York politician in recent times to get in trouble over kinky sex habits.
The state’s governor, Eliot Spitzer, resigned in 2008 after being caught visiting expensive prostitutes. Earlier this year, another married congressman, Christopher Lee, e-mailed a shirtless photo of himself to a woman. The New York Republican resigned over his attempt to arrange sex online.
David Birdsell, dean of Baruch College’s School of Public Affairs in New 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.
Even if Weiner remains in office, political consultants said his ambition to succeed Michael R. Bloomberg as mayor had 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.” Reports from New York Times News Service, AP and AFP