(Updates with comment by Harry Reid in 10th paragraph.)
June 7 (Bloomberg) -- U.S. Representative Anthony Weiner apologized for sending suggestive online photos and messages to several women, admissions that prompted calls for a congressional investigation and could end his political career.
Weiner, a New York Democrat who has been married for almost a year, said at a tearful press conference yesterday that he had engaged in “inappropriate conversations” with six women over the last three years, including on Facebook, e-mail and Twitter and, with at least one of the women, on the telephone.
“I came here to accept the full responsibility for what I’ve done,” said Weiner, 46, choking up as he addressed reporters at a hotel in New York City. “I have made terrible mistakes.”
The tawdry controversy, coupled with a congressional investigation into whether he used government resources to communicate with the women, effectively ends Weiner’s expected bid to run for New York City mayor in 2013, according to political strategists. And though he said he wouldn’t resign his seat in Congress, the criticism directed at him by fellow Democrats raised questions about whether he can remain in office.
“Mayor Weiner? Probably not,” said New York-based Democratic consultant Hank Sheinkopf.
Weiner had been a leading contender to succeed New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg when Bloomberg’s third term expires in January 2014.
“It cooks him, it seems to me, for any chance to be a candidate for mayor,” said Mickey Carroll, director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute in Hamden, Connecticut.
Weiner, who first won his seat in 1998, said the scandal shouldn’t reflect on his performance of his “official duties” and he wasn’t stepping down. Sheinkopf said Weiner “will fight to stay in Congress if challenged, and smart money should bet on him.”
Still, his admission prompted calls for a resignation from Republicans and an investigation from his fellow Democrats.
“I wish there was some way I can defend him, but I can’t,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, said today. When asked what advice he would provide if Weiner called, he said: “Call somebody else.”
Call for Resignation
New York State Republican Party Chairman Ed Cox called on Weiner to resign. “His inappropriate behavior has irreparably damaged his ability to serve,” Cox said in a statement yesterday. “His actions are at best despicable and at worst illegal.”
Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said in a statement today that Democratic party leaders either “believe members of Congress are held to a different set of standards or they believe these actions demand his resignation.”
The National Republican Congressional Committee called today on 16 Democrats who received contributions from Weiner to return the donations.
While Weiner said he had used his home computer and personal BlackBerry in his exchanges, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California official asked the House Ethics Committee today to investigate whether he used government resources in his communications or violated House conduct rules. One of the online photos appeared to have been taken in a congressional office building.
“I am deeply disappointed and saddened about this situation, for Anthony’s wife, Huma, his family, his staff and his constituents,” Pelosi, a California Democrat, said in an e- mailed statement.
Another House member from New York, Republican Christopher Lee, resigned his seat in February after the website Gawker reported that the married lawmaker had e-mailed a picture of himself bare-chested to a woman he met through the website Craigslist.
Senator Frank Lautenberg, a Democrat from New Jersey, said the scandal could have an equally damning effect on Weiner’s career. “It’s certainly a violation of good judgment, and who knows how far forward it carries,” he told reporters in Washington yesterday.
Last week Weiner denied that he had sent a racy photograph to a Seattle woman using Twitter, claiming that his account had been hacked. The photo shows a man from the waist down in gray boxer briefs.
“I lied because I was embarrassed,” Weiner said yesterday. “It was a dumb thing to do.”
Big Government, a conservative website, published a series of photographs and e-mails yesterday that it claimed had been sent by Weiner to unidentified women. One of the photos is of a bare-chested man. The subject’s face isn’t visible, though photographs on a cabinet in the background show Weiner.
The blogger, Andrew Breitbart, said the photos were sent from the e-mail address AnthonyWeiner@aol.com via BlackBerry last month. Breitbart said he was withholding a more graphic photo.
“I’m doing this to save his family. If this guy does this again, I have this photo,” he told reporters before Weiner’s press conference in New York City.
Weiner said he never met any of the women in person and never had sex outside his marriage. He married Huma Abedin, a top aide to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, last July in a ceremony officiated by former President Bill Clinton.
Weiner said he and his wife plan to stay together and had discussed his online flirtations before they married, though she only found out yesterday morning that he had sent the recent explicit photo over Twitter. Abedin didn’t attend the press conference.
“My wife is a remarkable woman. She’s not responsible for any of this,” Weiner said yesterday, his voice shaking.
Meagan Broussard, a 26-year-old single mother from Texas, told ABC News that she had exchanged “hundreds of messages” on Facebook with Weiner starting on April 20, about nine months after he got married.
“He would say just ‘good morning, how are you doing, what are you doing today? What are you wearing? What do you like?’ You know, in the bedroom, you know, that sort of thing,” she said.
Weiner, who represents parts of Queens and Brooklyn in New York City, ran in the Democratic mayoral primary in 2005, finishing second in a three-way race. He decided not to run in the 2009 Democratic primary after Bloomberg announced that he would run for a third term and the City Council altered the City Charter to allow him to do so. Bloomberg is the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg LP, the parent company of Bloomberg News.
Critic of Republican Policies
Over his seven terms in Congress, Weiner has emerged as one of the loudest critics of Republican policies. His attacks and frequent cable news interviews have made him a hero to Democratic activists.
In February 2010, he called the Republican Party a “wholly owned subsidiary of the insurance industry” for opposing the health-care bill. He refused to apologize after Republicans accused him of breaching congressional decorum.
Weiner didn’t appear at scheduled public events over the weekend, including the New York City Israel Day parade which he has attended annually.
Reflecting on the scandal, Carroll of Quinnipiac University said that lawmakers have to be especially careful about the new dangers created by online communication.
“You know the old watchword: Do whatever you want, but don’t put it in writing,” he said.
--With assistance from Kathleen Hunter and Julie Hirschfeld Davis in Washington. Editors: Don Frederick, Robin Meszoly
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