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Democrats decline to defend Weiner after scandal

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  • NY Rep. Weiner admits he sent lewd Twitter pix; won't quit

    NY Rep. Weiner admits he sent lewd Twitter pix; won't quit

    Monday, June 6 2011 8:08 PM EDT2011-06-07 00:08:08 GMT
    New York Democratic Rep. Anthony Weiner says racy, shirtless pictures that appeared on a website are him and he's apologizing for what he calls making terrible mistakes. 
    After days of denials, a choked-up Rep. Anthony Weiner confessed Monday that he tweeted a photo of his bulging underpants to a young woman, and he also admitted to "inappropriate" exchanges with six women before and after he got married. He apologized for lying but said he would not resign. 

WASHINGTON (AP) — Fellow Democrats pointedly refused to defend Rep. Anthony Weiner on Tuesday, telegraphing an unmistakable eagerness for him to resign after he admitted sending a lewd photo of himself to a woman via Twitter and lying about it.

Republicans swiftly sought political profit from the New York Democrat's predicament, which threatened to deepen when conservative blogger Andrew Breitbart said he had a sexually explicit photo of the 46-year-old congressman.

His political career in extreme jeopardy, Weiner had no public appearances. His spokesman did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

On Monday, after days of denials, the New York lawmaker admitted he had engaged in "several inappropriate conversations conducted over Twitter, Facebook, email and occasionally on the phone with women I had met online."

Alternately apologetic and defiant, he said he neither met nor had physical relationships with any of them, and added, "I am not resigning."

In fact, there is little that party leaders can do to force an errant lawmaker to quit, although House Republicans have moved decisively in the past year to purge their ranks of two men who wound up in embarrassing situations.

Most Democrats maintained an uncomfortable silence about Weiner's future, part of what several senior congressional officials described as a hope that over a few days, Weiner would reconsider his refusal to resign. If not, several noted pointedly, his district might be eliminated when lines are adjusted before the 2012 elections to account for a population shift that will cost New York two House seats.

But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid broke the silence.

"I wish there were some way that I can defend him, but I can't," the Nevada Democrat told reporters. Asked what he would do if Weiner called for advice, he replied he would tell him "call somebody else."

Republicans sought political gain.

"Congressman Weiner's actions and deception are unacceptable and he should resign," GOP chairman Reince Priebus said in a written statement.

"We do not need an investigation to know he lied and acted inappropriately, we need a resignation," he said, referring to a request from House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi for the House ethics committee to investigate the case.

Speaking of Pelosi and Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, the Democratic party chairwoman, Priebus said they either "believe members of Congress are held to a different set of standards or they believe these actions demand his resignation."

Brad Woodhouse, a Democratic National Committee spokesman, referred a request for a comment to Wasserman Schultz's House office. He said the issue was a congressional one, but her spokesman declined comment on whether Weiner should resign.

Separately, the Republican House and Senate campaign organizations called on Democrats to return donations Weiner had made to them.

"Does ... Democrat Senate candidate Joe Donnelly, (D-IN) plan to return the $5,000 he took from his friend Weiner in order to fund his political campaigns?" asked the National Republican Senatorial Committee. There was no immediate reply from Donnelly, a second-term House member who recently announced he would run for the Senate in 2012.

In the House, Democratic Rep. Betty Sutton of Ohio said through an aide she would donate to charity a $1,000 contribution she received from Weiner last year.

Demanding the return of cash from troubled donors has become a standard political tactic in recent years, practiced by both parties.

But the other facts in Weiner's case were anything but routine.

Instead, they reflected the growing impact of social media and little-known websites on the political fortunes of the nation's most powerful elected officials, in this case, a man with ambitions of becoming mayor of New York City.

Despite fielding numerous questions on Monday, some of them intensely personal about his marriage, Weiner left gaps at his news conference.

He said he could not guarantee that none of the women with whom he exchanged salacious pictures or messages was underage.

Asked whether he had phone sex, he sidestepped. "I was never in the same room as them, I never — had any physical relationship whatever," he said.

Asked whether he could guarantee that there was no X-rated photo in existence of himself, he replied, "No, I cannot."

That issue was first broached by Breitbart, who showed up at Weiner's news conference on Monday before the congressman did.

In an interview with The Associated Press on Tuesday, Breitbart said he had not yet released a sexually explicit photo taken of the congressman unclothed.

He said he would consider releasing the picture if he concludes that Weiner's staff tries to disparage any of the women with whom the congressman flirted online.

"Under the circumstances that those women that he's had these consensual relationships, that their personal information would start to be leaked from his team, I would strongly consider releasing the photo if he wants to make this an attack on these innocent women," he said.

At his news conference, Weiner apologized to the women and to all he misled with his earlier denials, but most often to his wife, Huma Abedin, who was not present.

Abedin, deputy chief of staff to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, is well-known in her own right in Democratic circles. Some party officials said that was a factor in the general unwillingness to call for Weiner's resignation.

She has had no comment on her husband's controversy.

Under House rules, party leaders cannot force a lawmaker to quit, although they can press for a resignation and sometimes do.

Republicans successfully urged Indiana Rep. Mark Souder take that course last year after he admitted to an extra-marital affair with a member of his staff. They did so again in February, with Rep. Chris Lee of New York, who quit quickly after shirtless photos he sent to a woman he had met on Craigslist were published online.

By contrast, Pelosi issued a call shortly after Weiner's news conference for the House ethics committee to investigate his case to make sure no House rules were broken.

The committee had no comment, and with the House not scheduled to meet for nearly a week, it was unclear when it might begin work on the case.

___

Associated Press writers Andrew Miga in Washington, Le Phuong in Seattle, Travis Loller in Nashville, Tenn., Chris Hawley in New York, Ramit Plushnick-Masti in Houston, Oskar Garcia in Las Vegas and researcher Barbara Sambriski contributed to this report.

THIS IS A STORY UPDATE. Read AP's earlier story below.

WASHINGTON (AP) — The chairman of the Republican party says Rep. Anthony Weiner should resign after admitting he sent a lewd photo of himself on Twitter to a woman and then lied about it repeatedly.

Reince Priebus says in a statement that either House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi and Democratic chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz believe that members of Congress are held to a different standard, or they believe the congressman's actions demand his departure from the House.

The Democratic National Committee did not have an immediate comment.

The National Republican Congressional Committee also seized on the Weiner scandal as a 2012 campaign issue, issuing press releases calling on more than a dozen House Democrats to return campaign contributions from Weiner.

Weiner vowed on Monday he would not resign his seat, and apologized repeatedly at a news conference for his actions.

Pelosi issued a statement afterwards calling for the House ethics committee to investigate.

Weiner faces a cool reception from even some of his closest allies in Congress as he clings to a once-promising political career.

House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi and other members of the Democratic leadership voiced their disappointment in Weiner and pointedly urged the House ethics committee to launch an investigation to determine if the outspoken New York Democrat broke House rules. Their calls came shortly after the married Weiner's profuse public apology for "inappropriate" online exchanges with six women.

Pelosi pronounced herself "deeply disappointed and saddened."

The second-ranking House Democrat, Maryland's Steny Hoyer, called for Weiner to make full disclosure.

The cool but so-far not fatal reception from his House colleagues contrasted sharply with the fate that befell fellow New York Rep. Christopher Lee, who sent a shirtless photo of himself to a woman he met on Craigslist. Within a matter of hours of the photo being disclosed, the Republican met with House Speaker John Boehner and resigned.

House Republicans have stated there would be zero tolerance for misbehavior by members in their ranks. And even if Weiner did nothing illegal, House ethics rules state that members must comport themselves in a manner befitting their office, enough to trigger an investigation into Weiner's online social life.

And House Democrats weren't exactly circling around him in support.

One of Weiner's New York colleagues, Rep. Steve Israel, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said it would rest with the voters of Weiner's district, which covers parts of Brooklyn and Queens, to determine the seven-term congressman's fate.

"Congressman Anthony Weiner engaged in a deep personal failure and inappropriate behavior that embarrassed himself, his family and the House," Israel said. "Ultimately, Anthony and his constituents will make a judgment about his future."

New York's senior senator, Chuck Schumer, said in a statement that he was "deeply pained and saddened by today's news. By fully explaining himself, apologizing to all he hurt and taking full responsibility for his wrongful actions, Anthony did the right thing. He remains a talented and committed public servant, and I pray he and his family can get through these difficult times."

Weiner on Monday admitted sending a lewd photo of his underwear-clad crotch to a young woman over Twitter and then lying repeatedly to protect himself.

The extraordinary confession at a packed Manhattan news conference was a remarkable turn of events for the brash Weiner, who conceded to a "hugely regrettable" lapse in judgment.

Weiner insisted he had done nothing wrong and said he would fully cooperate with a House inquiry.

Weiner said he used his home computer and personal Blackberry, not government computers, in his exchanges with the women. But that may not protect him from House rules that say a member "shall conduct himself at all times in a manner that shall reflect creditably on the House."

On numerous occasions, the House ethics committee has cited that general rule in finding that a lawmaker violated standards of conduct.

Weiner also acknowledged that he had engaged in inappropriate contact with six women over the course of three years through social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook and occasionally over the phone. He said he had never met or had a physical relationship with any of the women and was not even sure of their ages. He also said he had never had sex outside of his marriage.

The news conference, unusually blunt even by New York standards, went on nearly half an hour and capped a week of double-entendre, tabloid-headlines and late-night jokesters' snide comments. With eyes welling and voice breaking, Weiner fielded questions from dozens of shouting reporters as the cameras clicked.

Weiner said over and over that he had made "terrible mistakes" and done "a very dumb thing" for which he alone bore responsibility, and he apologized repeatedly to his wife, Huma Abedin, a top aide to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

"My wife is a remarkable woman. She's not responsible for any of this," he said. "I apologize to her very deeply."

Abedin did not attend his news conference, but Weiner said they would not be separating over the scandal.

Among the women Weiner contacted, Meagan Broussard told ABC News that Weiner "friended" her on Facebook after she commented on one of his speeches posted online on April 20. They exchanged more than 100 messages, and Weiner constantly tried to steer the conversation toward sex.

"I don't think he's a bad guy. I think he's got issues just like everybody else," Broussard, 26, said in an interview aired Monday night.

During Weiner's news conference, the lawmaker confirmed that Broussard was one of the women with whom he had exchanged messages.

The scandal began more than a week ago when a conservative website reported that a photo of a man's crotch had been sent from Weiner's Twitter account to a college student in Seattle.

For days, Weiner claimed that he hadn't sent the photo and that he was the victim of a hacker. But he caused guffaws when he said that he couldn't say with "certitude" that the underwear shot was not a picture of him.

The scandal escalated Monday when the website, BigGovernment.com, run by conservative activist Andrew Breitbart, posted photos purportedly from a second woman who said she received shirtless shots of the congressman. The site said the pictures were in a cache of intimate online photographs, chats and email exchanges the woman claimed to have. The website did not identify the woman.

One photo showed Weiner on a couch with two cats nearby. The website said Weiner sent the photo using the anthonyweiner(at)aol.com account with the subject line "Me and the pussys."

Appearing on NBC's "Today" show Tuesday, Breitbart threatened to make public what he described as an X-rated picture involving Weiner if the congressman forces his hand.

Breitbart said he considers the image "an insurance policy" against attacks from Weiner, who admitted Monday that the so-called crotch shot photo was of him. The married Weiner also acknowledged he had engaged in inappropriate contact with six women over three years through social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook and occasionally over the phone.

Breitbart said Tuesday that if Weiner wants to open himself to further investigation, "there are a lot of women" who could come forward. Asked directly if he considered the purported unpublicized picture an insurance policy, Breitbart replied, "I don't like to think of it that way."

Also, the celebrity website RadarOnline.com said a woman claimed to have 200 sexually explicit messages from Weiner through a Facebook account that Weiner no longer uses. It was not clear whether the woman who claimed to have the new photo was the person who claimed to have received the text messages.

In a strange twist, Breitbart attended Weiner's news conference and spoke to reporters before Weiner appeared. He said Tuesday that he wasn't trying to take over Weiner's news conference and that reporters who had come to hear the congressman had asked him to go to the podium to answer questions while they awaited Weiner.

On Monday, Breitbart had said he "would like an apology from" Weiner because "I'm here for some vindication." Weiner did apologize to Breitbart.

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