Rep. Anthony Weiner’s Twitter career ended in tatters Monday, as the New York Democrat admitted in a chaotic news conference that he used social media to send explicit photographs and sexually suggestive text messages to several women over the course of three years, including in the period since he married Huma Abedin last year.
Weiner, more than almost any other lawmaker, understood how to exploit social media — not to mention the mainstream media — to help make him a “star of the caucus,” but “it was his undoing,” said one colleague. “That damn social media.”
It’s now clear that the very tool that helped propel Weiner to prominence became the weapon by which he damaged his own political career, and the episode gave yet another warning to lawmakers to watch what they send over the Internet.
He faces an ethics investigation — called for by Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi — and an uncertain future in both congressional and New York politics.
“To be clear, the picture is of me and I sent it,” Weiner said of a photograph of him in gray underwear that surfaced a week and a half ago and whose origin he had previously questioned.
It’s hard to say where rock bottom is, but Weiner, who said he won’t resign, hopes it was his news conference in which he apologized. Even before Weiner could appear, conservative publisher Andrew Breitbart took the stage to address the media and answer their questions in an impromptu opening act for the main event.
Breitbart had first brought attention to the underwear photo and later posted shots of a bare-chested Weiner on his website, biggovernment.com. Breitbart sought vindication: Weiner originally told the world that his Facebook account had been hacked — a story he recanted at Monday’s news conference.
“I am deeply regretting what I have done, and I am not resigning,” Weiner said at a Manhattan hotel, as the political universe watched in amazement — some observers feeling sympathy for Weiner’s wife and others pure schadenfreude, according to a deluge of tweets.
“If you’re looking for some deep explanation, I don’t have one, except that I’m sorry,” Weiner said.
Only time will tell whether sorry is enough.
In addition to a potentially embarrassing ethics investigation, Weiner faces questions of whether he can survive primary and general election races, and political insiders speculated that his district could now become an easy target in the redrawing of New York’s congressional map for the 2012 elections.
Pelosi’s call for an ethics investigation, quickly seconded by Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Steve Israel of New York, also gives cover to party leaders who would otherwise be pressured to render judgment on Weiner.
ABC News reported Monday afternoon that it had “dozens of photos, emails, Facebook messages and cellphone call logs that [a woman named Meagan Broussard] says chronicle a sexually charged electronic relationship with Weiner that rapidly evolved for more than a month, starting on April 20, 2011.”
“I have my own life, my own things where I’m from, and I just wanted to go ahead with them. I thought I could just be private about it, but there’s no reason for me to hide,” Broussard told ABC. “I didn’t do anything wrong. I don’t know him. I’m just putting my story out there before anyone else tries to.”
Weiner presents an unusual case for Democratic leaders.
Unlike relatively obscure politicians embroiled in recent sex scandals — former New York Reps. Eric Massa, Vito Fossella and Chris Lee among them — Weiner was a familiar face, and a strong voice for the party, before his career took a turn for the worse.
He built his reputation on cable television, as an articulate but unsuccessful advocate for a public option in last year’s health care law. As such, he had been an increasingly formidable member of the Democratic Party’s lineup in the House and, now, as a result, is a bigger liability than some small-time back-bencher.
Ironically, his stature as a national figure was bolstered by a seeming mastery of the social media websites Facebook and Twitter, where his quick wit, love of sports and sharp partisan edge were always evident. For some correspondents, Weiner presented even more of himself.
The Websites www.biggovernment.com and www.radaronline.com published new material on Monday, including bare-chested shots of Weiner and correspondence that a woman said she had with the congressman. Weiner, who claimed last week that his electronic accounts had been hacked, has said he couldn’t deny with “certitude” that he was the man photographed in a close-up shot of bulging gray underpants that was posted to his yfrog account more than a week ago. On Monday, Weiner confessed that he had lied.
Weiner’s marriage to Abedin, a top aide to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, only increased his stature in Democratic circles — and added to the intrigue surrounding his foibles.
He repeatedly apologized to Abedin for the online relationships, which he numbered at six.
Weiner, according to RadarOnline, wrote to a woman via Facebook “ridiculous bulge in my shorts now. wanna see?”
The woman replied “Yea! can u send a pic?”
Weiner said he’d take a photograph but never sent one, according to the report.
As it turns out, there were others out there.
The bare-chested pictures were sent on May 20, long after Lee resigned on Feb. 9 when it was revealed that he had sent a similar half-naked picture of himself to a woman he met on the website Craigslist.
Like a vote already cast, lawmakers are now very aware that there’s no way to get photographs back once they’ve been sent out over the Web.
John Ullyot, a crisis communications consultant and former aide to then-Sen. John Warner (R-Va.), said the “biggest problem Weiner has at this point is the possibility that he may have used his office phone and/or office computers to conduct his chats.”
Weiner told reporters he believes he didn’t use official resources to send explicit texts and images to women he met online.
But Pelosi’s not taking his word for it.
“I am calling for an Ethics Committee investigation to determine whether any official resources were used or any other violation of House rules occurred,” Pelosi said. “I am deeply disappointed and saddened about this situation; for Anthony’s wife, Huma, his family, his staff and his constituents.”
Not on the list of people getting her sympathy: Weiner.
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