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The Anthony Weiner scandal: How it all went wrong

June 16, 2011|By James Oliphant

For Anthony Weiner, it all began unraveling in a House office building.

It was there, just a few days into the then-small-scale story over a mysterious photo of a man’s underwear that had flooded the Twitterverse, that Weiner’s façade began to crack as he was confronted by aggressive questioning from a CNN reporter and producer.

Until then, the New York Democrat had largely been given the benefit of the doubt. As the photo surfaced over Memorial Day weekend, much of the media’s attention focused on whether Weiner was the victim of a conservative sting, perhaps orchestrated by the irrepressible Andrew Breitbart. Weiner himself had maintained that his Twitter and Facebook accounts had been hacked.

PHOTOS: Rep. Anthony Weiner sexting scandal

But Weiner managed, in a series of increasingly heated exchanges outside his office with the reporter, Dana Bash, and her producer, Ted Barrett, to turn the story to his increasingly tangled and at times contradictory answers.

For example, for someone who had claimed his accounts were hacked, why hadn’t he referred the matter to the Capitol Police? Or the FBI? (Indeed, it may have been for this reason that Weiner began to refer to the incident as a “prank”—as a way to lessen its import.) Why wouldn’t he simply deny, straightaway, that it wasn’t his torso in the photograph?

Weiner, who at one point called Barrett a “jackass,” lost his cool. He looked like a man with something to hide.

The following day, June 1, he managed to make things worse—if possible—in a series of media interviews in which he famously noted that he could not say “with certitude” whether the photo of a man's underpants was of him or not. He joked that the incident “did not rise” to the level warranting a federal investigation.

The following Monday, June 6, the roof caved in. Breitbart’s BigGovernment.com published more photos, this time from a single mother in Texas, Meagan Broussard, who had been trading lascivious messages with Weiner. Broussard gave a damning interview with ABC News in which she questioned why Weiner would take so many risks.

The revelation forced Weiner to hold a New York news conference in which he admitted to online liasons with at least six women. His exchanges with one woman in Las Vegas were published and read like a transcript of a phone-sex chat room. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi called for an ethics investigation, the first real sign that Democratic leaders were ready to jettison their once-rising star.

But Weiner insisted he would not resign—and questioned whether he needed any psychological counseling at all. In the meantime, reports surfaced that his wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton aide Huma Abedin, was pregnant. But Abedin, as she would during the entire life of the scandal, stayed out of sight.

Democrats, largely silent, began to take a harder stance, starting with Rep. Allyson Schwartz of Pennsylvania. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said he could not “defend” Weiner, but stopped short of saying he should resign.

Last Friday, June 10, appeared to be last straw for prominent Democrats. Weiner’s name was linked to a 17-year-old girl in Delaware. Weiner’s office admitted online contact but denied there had been any inappropriate communication.

Less than 24 hours later, three leading Democrats, Pelosi, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the chair of the Democratic National Committee, and Rep. Steve Israel, chair of the party’s House campaign arm, simultaneously called for Weiner’s exit.  Weiner defied them, saying instead he would seek a leave of absence and would undergo treatment (for what was never clear).

As this week dawned, it seemed possible that Weiner could attempt to ride out the storm. But President Obama, who had avoided the matter, upped the ante by suggesting Weiner should quit. And as Abedin returned to New York from a trip to Africa with Clinton, Ginger Lee, a one-time porn actress, held a circus-style news conference in which she discussed her online chats with Weiner and alleged he had told her to cover up their relationship.

By Thursday morning, reports had Weiner resigning. Whether it was the Lee news conference, or Abedin’s influence, or the looming threat by House Democrats to boot Weiner from his committee slots, that finally persuaded him to walk away remains unclear.  But he walked away alone. His wife did not appear at the news conference. And a once-promising political career was in ruins.

Whether it was the result of denial, naivete or hubris, Weiner forgot the No. 1 rule of the Internet age: On the Web, everything lasts forever. This time, no tapes could be erased.

 

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