A teary U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner, D-N.Y., addresses a news conference in New York, Monday, June 6, 2011. After days of denials, a choked-up New York Democratic Rep. Anthony Weiner confessed Monday that he tweeted a bulging-underpants photo of himself to a young woman and admitted to "inappropriate" exchanges with six women before and after getting married. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)
Rep. Anthony Weiner, the New York congressman who had become one of the Democrats’ most nationally recognized and pugilistic defenders, finally admitted Monday — after two weeks of denial — that he had sent a picture of himself in his undershorts to a woman over Twitter. He also admitted flatly lying to the public about his Twitter account being hacked to dodge accountability. By the time his tearful, remorseful recounting of his inappropriate conduct and his apology for it ended, he had further admitted that he had been engaging in suggestive phone relationships — including sending photos of himself — with half a dozen women around the country over the past three years.
Unless Weiner knowingly sent physically explicit photos to a minor or is hiding further lies, his actions may not rise to a criminal level, nor will they necessarily force his resignation. But they raise serious questions about his ethics and judgment, and they have certainly damaged his political career and embarrassed his party.
He clearly will not be a welcome candidate in a future New York City mayoral race — a race to which he had apparently aspired and for which he had acquired a substantial following. New York political observers said he probably had fatally wounded his political future in the city’s mayoral arena.
Weiner said in his contrite remarks Monday that he took responsibility, though with an ironic caveat; “I don’t what I was thinking,” he said. Maybe not, but that’s no excuse, nor will it reverse the damage to his political and personal standing. The fact that he lied so long and had to be forced into an admission by steady leaks of embarrassing pictures undermines his contrition, as well.
Weiner did claim that he had not met or had a personal encounter with any of the women other than the phone exchanges. Still, the nature of his moral offense and his lying are bad enough to lead some to call for him to resign his congressional seat. That’s understandable. No one in his shoes who has earned the responsibility of a place in Congress can turn around and say they didn’t know what they were doing.
Weiner’s lame stupidity-defense doesn’t rate him much slack, but the issue of demanding his resignation is more problematic. There’s a long record of worse conduct in Congress by officials who have held onto their office, at least until the voters have had their say.
Sen. David Vitter, the Louisiana Republican who admitted in 2007 to using a Washington, D.C., brothel for bizarre trysts with prostitutes — he liked to wear diapers — is still in office. So is Sen. John Ensign, the Nevada Republican who had an affair with the wife of his chief of staff, but he says he won’t run again. Former Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, remained in office until his term ended after an arrest in a men’s bathroom in the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport for allegedly soliciting sex with a man in an adjacent stall.
A quick review of congressional scandals shows a dozen other congressmen and senators — nine Republicans and three Democrats — have either resigned immediately or quit after the next election following revelations in recent years of sexually related misconduct, mostly affairs or sexual harassment or attempts to lure staffers or other Capitol employees into relationships.
Weiner’s vague cyber misconduct over remote social media falls in a different category, at least as of Tuesday afternoon. It reflects reckless conduct, lack of judgment and juvenile narcissism and venality. That’s probably enough to sink him in the next election, but it may be a lesson of lifetime. His constituents will get to decide his fate.