Anthony Weiner, the former Democratic congressman who some believe unwittingly helped Donald Trump win the presidential election, pleaded guilty Friday in New York to charges of sending obscene material to a minor.
The charges arose from a months-long sexually charged flirtation Weiner carried out with a 15-year-old high school sophomore in North Carolina. But he might go down as a footnote in history for the role he played in the 2016 presidential election.
It was in the course of the sexual misconduct investigation that the FBI stumbled on a trove of emails on his laptop from his estranged wife, Huma Abedin, an aide to Hillary Clinton. That discovery in turn led then-FBI Director James Comey to announce 11 days before the election he was reopening a probe into Clinton’s private emails — a statement that Clinton blamed in part for her loss to Trump.
Also on Friday, Abedin filed official papers in New York Supreme Court for a divorce, according to the New York Post.
The couple have been separated since last year.
The 52-year-old ex-congressman was once a rising star on the New York political scene, but his career was destroyed by repeated, embarrassing disclosures of sexually explicit texting over social media.
“I am guilty, your honor,’’ Weiner said tearfully, struggling to maintain composure as he read out a prepared statement. “I engaged in obscene communications with this teenager, including sharing explicit images and encouraging her to engage in sexually explicit conduct, just as I had done and continued to do with adult women.”
“I knew this was as morally wrong as it was unlawful.’’
In the deal struck with prosecutors, Weiner entered a plea in U.S. district court in Manhattan to one count of sending obscene material to a minor. Although the charge carries a sentence of up to 10 years in prison, under the deal, prosecutors will ask for 21 to 27 months. Weiner will also have to register as a sex offender.
As part of the deal, Weiner has to give up his iPhone, one of the instruments of his downfall.
Weiner became a fixture on the New York political scene in 1999 when he won the congressional seat held by his mentor, now-Sen. Charles Schumer. His wedding in 2010 to Abedin was officiated by ex-President Clinton.
In an era when adultery doesn’t have the same stigma for politicians as in the past, Weiner’s compulsion to exchange explicit sexual texts and photos with women he never met struck the public as more perverse than an actual affair. He was forced to resign from Congress in 2011 after he was caught sending photos of his (usually underwear-clad) privates to women he met on Twitter. Two years later, after entering the New York City mayoral race, asking voters to give him a “second chance,’’ it emerged that he was sexting another woman, using the alias “Carlos Danger.” He won less than 5% of the vote in the Democratic primary.
Weiner became the butt of comedians’ jokes and fodder for tabloid headlines.
But Weiner’s foibles soon became an issue of national importance in the midst of the heated 2016 presidential campaign, when the New York Post published a photo he had sent of himself lying in bed with the couple’s toddler sleeping next to him. Abedin left him and Trump pounced on the scandal as another chance to slam Clinton.
“It’s just another example of Hillary Clinton’s bad judgment. It’s possible that our country and security have been greatly compromised by this,” Trump said at the time. He also called Weiner a “sleazeball and pervert.”
What happened proved stranger than anything Trump might have envisioned. When the FBI opened an investigation into pornographic messages Weiner sent to the high school girl, it seized one of Weiner’s computers on which agents found email messages between Abedin and Clinton. That led to Comey’s decision to reopen the investigation into Clinton’s handling of classified information and the now infamous letter he sent to Congress on Oct. 28 about that decision.
Outside the courthouse, Weiner rushed past journalists. In his statement, he apologized, saying “destructive impulses brought great devastation to family and friends, and destroyed my life’s dream of public service.’’
He added: “I have a sickness, but I do not have an excuse.”
Here is the full text of Weiner’s statement on the scandal, as provided by the U.S. attorney’s office:
Beginning with my service in Congress and continuing into the first half of last year, I have compulsively sought attention from women who contacted me on social media, and I engaged with many of them in both sexual and non-sexual conversation. These destructive impulses brought great devastation to family and friends, and destroyed my life’s dream of public service.
In late January 2016, I was contacted by and began exchanging online messages with a stranger who said that she was a high school student and who I understood to be 15 years old. Through approximately March 2016, I engaged in obscene communications with this teenager, including sharing explicit images and encouraging her to engage in sexually explicit conduct, just as I had done and continued to do with adult women. I knew this was as morally wrong as it was unlawful.
This fall, I came to grips for the first time with the depths of my sickness. I had hit bottom. I entered intensive treatment, found the courage to take a moral inventory of my defects, and began a program of recovery and mental health treatment that I continue to follow every day.
I accept full responsibility for my conduct. I have a sickness, but I do not have an excuse. I apologize to everyone I have hurt. I apologize to the teenage girl, whom I mistreated so badly. I am committed to making amends to all those I have harmed. Thank you.