Defiant no longer, Weiner resigns in sex scandal

June 16, 2011 - 10:29 PM
Weiner Twitter Photos

U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner announces his resignation from Congress, in the Brooklyn borough of New York, Thursday, June 16, 2011. Weiner resigned from Congress, saying he cannot continue in office amid the intense controversy surrounding sexually explicit messages he sent online to several women. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

NEW YORK (AP) — Defiant and combative no longer, New York Rep. Anthony Weiner soberly announced his resignation from Congress on Thursday, bowing to the furor caused by his sexually charged online dalliances with a former porn actress and other women.

Democratic Party leaders, concerned that Weiner could weigh the party down in the 2012 elections, welcomed the announcement after days spent trying to coax, push and finally coerce the wayward 46-year-old into quitting. Known as brash, liberal and ambitious, Weiner had run for mayor of New York in 2005 and had been expected to do so again. He was in his seventh term in Congress.

At an appearance in Brooklyn that drew hecklers as well as supporters, Weiner apologized "for the personal mistakes I have made and the embarrassment I have caused," particularly to his wife, Huma Abedin.

Pregnant with the couple's first child, she was absent as she had been 10 days ago when Weiner first admitted sending inappropriate messages and photos to women online — after earlier denying emphatically he had done so.

In his brief farewell appearance, Weiner said he initially hoped the controversy would fade but then realized "the distraction that I have created has made that impossible."

That conclusion echoed party officials who had become worried that the intense public focus on Weiner — and the Republican political rhetoric sure to follow — would complicate their campaign efforts in 2012.

"Congressman Weiner exercised poor judgment in his actions and poor judgment in his reaction to the revelations," House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi said in a statement released moments after he spoke. "Today, he made the right judgment in resigning."

Weiner made his announcement at the same senior citizen center in Brooklyn where he announced his candidacy for the New York city council in 1992.

He declined to answer questions, leaving unaddressed whether he envisioned his resignation as the end of a once-promising political career — or merely a painful pause of uncertain duration.

"Now I'll be looking for other ways to contribute my talents so that we live up to that most New York and American of ideals," he said.

Nor did he explain his presence in New York, several days after issuing a statement that said he was seeking treatment. Other Democrats said he had left the city to do so.

He had succeeded his mentor, Sen. Chuck Schumer, who vacated the seat to run for the Senate. The senator, one of a few prominent Democratic leaders who did not call for Weiner's resignation, issued a statement saying the congressman "has served his community, city and country well for over two decades."

Weiner's departure marks the end of a bizarre period born of the New Yorker's use of social media such as Twitter and Facebook.

His problems began on May 28 when a website run by conservative commentator Andrew Breitbart posted a lewd photograph of an underwear-clad crotch and said it had been sent from Weiner's Twitter account to a Seattle woman.

And as the scandalous chapter neared its conclusion, a former pornography actress who exchanged emails and messages over Twitter with him said Wednesday at a news conference he had asked her to lie about their interactions.

Ginger Lee said she and Weiner exchanged about 100 emails between March and June after Lee posted a supportive statement about the congressman on her blog. He then contacted her on Twitter, Lee said. They mostly discussed politics, but he would often turn the conversation to sex, she said.

"'I have wardrobe demands, too. I need to highlight my package,'" Weiner wrote Lee, in an email read aloud at the news conference by Lee's attorney.

Weiner's initial reaction after the first photo became public more than two weeks ago was to lie, and he did so repeatedly, saying his Twitter account had been hacked.

But he pointedly did not report the incident to law enforcement — a step that could have opened him to charges of far more serious wrongdoing.

Nor were his public denials persuasive, especially when he told one interviewer he could not "say with certitude" that he wasn't the faceless man in the underwear photo.

His eventual confession triggered a tabloid-style frenzy in print and online that only grew more pronounced a few days later when an X-rated photo surfaced on a website.

After initially calling for a House ethics investigation, Pelosi ramped up the pressure on Saturday when she joined with Rep. Steve Israel of New York and Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, leader of the Democratic National Committee, in calling on Weiner to step down.

President Barack Obama added to the pressure two days later, saying if he were in Weiner's situation, he would resign. Once Weiner did so, Obama told ABC's "Good Morning America" that "I wish Rep. Weiner and his lovely wife well. This obviously has been a tough incident for him but I'm confident that they'll refocus and he'll refocus and they'll end up being able to bounce back."

On Wednesday, Democrats let it be known that the party's leadership in the House would be meeting within 24 hours to consider sanctions against Weiner, including possibly stripping him of his committee assignment.

Officials said Weiner informed Pelosi and Israel, the head of the party campaign committee, of his plans to quit as they attended a White House picnic on Wednesday evening.

Several officials have said in recent days that Weiner was reluctant to make any decision about his career without speaking with his wife, a top aide to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who had been overseas since shortly after the scandal broke. The trip ended Tuesday night.

Weiner's outspoken, in-your-face style cheered liberal supporters and angered conservatives. He even irritated some party leaders in 2009 when he led the charge for a government-run health care system long after the White House had made it clear that Obama was opposed.

Weiner's district includes parts of Queens and Brooklyn. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has the authority to call a special election to fill the seat once the congressman submits his resignation.

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Andrew Miga reported from Washington; Associated Press writers Beth Fouhy and Ula Ilnytzky contributed from New York.