Anthony Weiner sexting scandals
American politician Anthony Weiner, former member of the United States House of Representatives from New York City, has been involved in two sexual scandals related to sexting, or sending explicit sexual material by cell phone. The first, sometimes dubbed Weinergate, led to his resignation as a congressman in 2011. The second, during his attempt to return to politics as candidate for mayor of New York City, involved three women Weiner admitted having sexted after further explicit pictures were published in July 2013.
The first scandal began when Democratic U.S. Congressman Weiner used the social media website Twitter to send a link to a sexually suggestive picture of himself to a 21-year-old woman from Seattle, Washington. After several days of denying media reports that he had posted the image, he admitted to having sent a link to the photo, and other sexually explicit photos and messages to women both before and during his marriage. He denied ever having met, or having had a physical relationship with any of the women. On June 16, 2011, Weiner announced his intention to resign from Congress effective June 23, 2011.
A second scandal began on July 23, 2013, after Weiner returned to politics in April 2013 by entering the New York City mayoral election, when more pictures and sexting by Weiner were released by the website The Dirty. They were allegedly sent under the alias Carlos Danger to a 22-year-old woman with whom Weiner had contact in late 2012, and as late as April 2013, more than a year after Weiner had left Congress. Weiner admitted sexting at least three women during this period, and although called on by the New York Times editorial board, among others, to leave the mayoral race, he remained in the race until the end, when he took fifth place in the Democratic primary, with 4.9% of the vote.
Initial media reports and Weiner's denial
On May 27, 2011, using his public Twitter account, Weiner sent a link to a photo on yfrog of his erect penis concealed by boxer briefs to a 21-year-old female college student from Seattle, Washington, who was following his posts on the social media website. Though the link was quickly removed from Weiner's Twitter account, screen shots of Weiner’s original message and of the photo were captured by a user identified as "Dan Wolfe" on Twitter and subsequently sent to blogger Andrew Breitbart who published them on his BigGovernment website the following day.
On June 1, Weiner gave a series of interviews in which he denied sending the photo and suggested that someone, perhaps a political opponent, had hacked into his accounts and published the photo. Weiner also said he could not say "with certitude" that the photo was not of him. He suggested that the image might be doctored, saying, "Maybe it did start being a photo of mine and now looks something different or maybe it is from another account." He did not ask the FBI or U.S. Capitol Police to investigate the incident but said he had retained a private security firm to look into this matter because he felt it was a prank, not a crime. Several bloggers accused Wolfe and Breitbart of planting the photo and message as part of a scheme to defame Weiner.
Evidence later revealed that a group of self-described conservatives had been monitoring Weiner's communications with women for at least three months. Two false identities of underage girls had been created by unknown parties to solicit communication with Weiner and the women he was contacting. Bloggers reported a tweet made in April by a 17-year-old Delaware girl in which she exclaimed, "Seriously talking to Representative Weiner from New York right now! Like is my life real?" In early June, Fox News Channel, whose reporter "happened to be there when the cops showed up", reported that police went to the girl's house to question her and her parents. The police, who had been "made aware of an alleged contact" between Weiner and the girl, also reviewed content on her computer. Weiner confirmed having communicated with the girl, but denied sending any inappropriate messages. The family of the girl stated the contact was "not salacious or in any manner inappropriate". The police did not find anything wrong in Weiner's communications with the girl. The entire incident was later dubbed "Weinergate."
On June 6, Breitbart posted a cropped, shirtless picture of Weiner obtained from a second woman on the Internet. and said Weiner had sent more pictures of himself, including at least one that was sexually graphic. After publication of this information, Weiner held a press conference in New York at which he apologized, saying, "I have not been honest with myself, my family, my constituents, my friends and supporters, and the media" and that, "to be clear, the picture was of me, and I sent it." After prompting from reporters, he specifically apologized to Andrew Breitbart. He also said he had "engaged in several inappropriate conversations conducted over Twitter, Facebook, email and occasionally on the phone" and had exchanged "messages and photos of an explicit nature with about six women over the last three years". He added he had never met or had a physical relationship with any of them. He said he was "deeply ashamed" of his "terrible judgment and actions", which he called "very dumb."
Answering questions, he said he had the continuing support of his wife Huma Abedin, a long-time aide to Hillary Clinton, whom he had married in July 2010, in a ceremony officiated by Bill Clinton, and did not intend to resign his congressional seat. Prior to his marriage, Weiner was known for his "bachelor exploits with some of New York's most eligible women," detailed in a 2011 Moment profile of the Congressman. Following the revelations of his inappropriate communications, his reportedly emotional apology to former president Clinton was referred to in the press as highly ironic. Asked about an allegation that he had engaged in phone sex with a woman in Nevada, Weiner neither confirmed nor denied the statement, saying that though he did not want to impinge the privacy of any of the women, neither would he contradict any of their statements. At his press conference, Weiner did admit that he had exchanged the reported sexting messages with his accuser.
During an appearance on Sirius XM radio on June 8, 2011, Breitbart showed hosts Opie and Anthony a photograph of what he claimed to be Weiner's nude genitalia. One of the cameras in the room caught the cell phone's display, and the hosts subsequently leaked the photo by publishing it on Twitter. Breitbart stated that the photo was published without his permission, and later told KFI radio, "These people have admitted that they did this surreptitiously and illicitly and they lied in the process saying that they didn't even have a camera in the place." Weiner's spokesperson issued the following statement: "As Representative Weiner said on Monday when he took responsibility for his actions, he has sent explicit photos."
News media also reported the identity of other Weiner's social media contacts, Lisa Weiss, a 40-year-old blackjack dealer in Las Vegas, and 28-year-old porn actress Ginger Lee who had exchanged sexually oriented messages with Weiner. On June 15, Ginger Lee held a press conference during which she said that when she requested advice from Weiner on how to respond to the media, he had advised her on June 2 that if they both stayed quiet the scandal would die down.
Political and constituent reaction
On the afternoon of June 6, 2011, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi called for an investigation by the House Ethics Committee to determine "whether any official resources were used or any other violation of House rules occurred". A number of Democratic and Republican congressmen called for Weiner's resignation. On June 7, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus called for him to resign, and challenged Pelosi to suggest the same. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R, VA) said he should resign, opining: "The last thing we need is to be immersed in discussion about Congressman Weiner and his Twitter activities." House Democrats who called for him to resign on June 8 included Representatives Allyson Schwartz (PA), Mike Ross (AR), Mike Michaud (ME), Niki Tsongas (MA), Larry Kissell (NC) and Joe Donnelly (IN). On June 11, Nancy Pelosi, DCCC Steve Israel, and DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz called for Weiner's resignation. Weiner requested and was granted a short leave of absence from the House to obtain professional treatment of an unspecified nature.
Two June 6 surveys of New York City adult residents provided conflicting results. A TV station NY1 and Marist College poll indicated that 51% believed Weiner should remain in Congress, 30% thought he should step down, and 18% were unsure. A WABC-TV/SurveyUSA automated survey found the city divided, with 46 percent who thought he should resign and 41 percent who thought he should stay in office. On June 9, a NY1-Marist Poll showed that 56% of registered voters in Weiner's Congressional District wanted him to stay in Congress, and 33% thought he should resign, with 12% uncertain. In the same poll, 73% said he acted unethically, but not illegally.
On June 13, White House spokesman Jay Carney said "The president feels... this is a distraction, as Congressman Weiner has said himself, his behavior was inappropriate; dishonesty was inappropriate." President Barack Obama said in an interview later that day that if he were Weiner, he would resign.
On June 16, 2011, Weiner announced he would resign his seat in Congress. He made the announcement at a news conference in Brooklyn, at the same location where he announced his first campaign for New York City Council in 1992.
On June 20, Weiner formally submitted his letter of resignation from the U.S. House of Representatives, effective at midnight on June 21. His letter of resignation was read on the floor of the House of Representatives on June 23 and entered into the record.
2013 mayoral race and second scandal
In April, 2013, the former congressman announced his return to politics as candidate for mayor of New York City. He soon became the front runner against Democratic primary-opponent City Council Speaker Christine Quinn.
On July 23, 2013, more pictures and sexting allegedly by Weiner were released by the website The Dirty. They were allegedly sent under the alias "Carlos Danger" to a 22-year-old woman with whom Weiner had contact in late 2012, as late as April 2013, more than a year after Weiner left Congress. At a news conference that same day, with his wife Huma by his side, Weiner responded, "I said that other texts and photos were likely to come out, and today they have." He also said he would not drop out of the mayoral election for the City of New York.
On July 24, The New York Times print edition called for Weiner to withdraw from the mayoral race in an editorial titled "Mr. Weiner and the Elusive Truth". In a joint NBC 4 New York/Wall Street Journal/Marist Institute for Public Opinion poll taken that day, Weiner's favorability rating had dropped over 20 points, and he had lost the lead in the primary race to councilor Quinn, now leading him 25 to 16 percent.
On July 25, the New York Daily News reported that, at a news conference in Brooklyn that day, Weiner admitted that he had sexted with three women in the months after his resignation from Congress, and that there had been six to ten women involved in total, not "dozens and dozens". Weiner’s campaign manager Danny Kedem quit the weekend after the news conference.
Following the primary election on September 10, 2013, the press reported that Sydney Leathers, the young woman at the center of the second scandal, attempted to enter Weiner's campaign party that night, without an invitation. Weiner had lost decisively in the election, finishing fifth with only 4.9% of the vote.
In popular culture
The first scandal was used as the inspiration for part of the plot line of Season I-II of the Showtime series Homeland, where a protagonist, a war hero (played by Damian Lewis), is invited to run for Congress (and subsequently gets elected) after Congressman "Dick Johnson"'s political career comes to a sudden end after his sexting pictures are publicized. A Washington Post article, noting that the Weiner story broke just in time for script purposes, quotes Alex Gansa, co-creator of Homeland: "We were looking for a way that our lead character could become a congressman in a very quick period of time. This presented itself on a platter."
The 2016 documentary Weiner covers his resignation from Congress and his run for Mayor of New York in 2013.
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Dear Secretary Perales and Governor Cuomo: I hereby resign as the Member of the House of Representatives for New York's Ninth Congressional District effective at midnight, Tuesday, June 21, 2011. It has been an honor to serve the people of Queens and Brooklyn.(scan of letter of resignation at this link)
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