Anthony Weiner: Grilled, But Not Done Yet
Clearly, Anthony Weiner's belated and Breitbart-crashed take-his-medicine press conference this afternoon was aimed at putting the lid on a story that's dominating the headlines. And with a week's worth of covering-up apparently done, it's a "reasonable move," as Ben Smith has it, to hold on, and expect this story having burned hot to now burn out by the end of the week if there's no more oxygen.
Anthony Weiner, in a PG-13 photo from his Facebook page
It was a bit humbling to be in the room with Weiner and see a man's better instincts and political instincts in such immediate conflict ("full responsibility," "a personal failing," ""I don't believe I did anything that violates any law or any rule") — it's enough to give a reporter a twinge of guilt about the never-ending joy of Weiner heads ("Weiner Goes Through Wringer at Presser," "Weiner Pokes Out Of Wall, Apologizes," and on and on).
Still, there are a few significant loose ends that weren't addressed in his remarks, and could re-ignite the story. And one more flare, and it's hard to see how Weiner can hold on to his office, particularly given the very cool support he's received from his fellow Democrats.
Weiner said repeatedly that he hadn't used government time or resources to have these "conversations," as he called them, with various women online. If that proves significantly untrue, it's obviously trouble. Past that, the embattled congressman said that he'd spoken to Gennette Cordova, the 21-year-old student he tried to send a lewd private picture to, only have it end up on his public Twitter stream, after the story first made headlines over Memorial Day weekend. While he said he simply apologized for having dragged her into the news, he strenuously denied that he or any staff member had "coached" or pressured her to change her story. But given how quickly Cordova's Facebook and Twitter pages went down, and even her school paper removed her name from bylines, it seemed a noteworthy construction since it didn't exclude the possibility that other Democratic operatives (not on his staff) had tried to suppress her story or cover her online trail, or those of any of the other women with whom he had online "relationships."
On the flip side of that, Pelosi was reportedly not happy, and Dem silence was staggering, with the best he could do Chuck Schumer's statement earlier this week that he was "virtually certain" his protégé hadn't sent the original underwear tweet. At the presser, Weiner said only that he talked to Pelosi today, who told him to tell the truth. And he defended his colleagues, asking why they should defend him when he wasn't being truthful. The question is: Why were his colleagues so sure, so quickly, that he wasn't being truthful, especially in the first few days of the original story, when this seemed much more ambiguous?
A question I've been trying to get at this week: Given Weiner's admission that'd he'd been having relationships with women online prior to his marriage, how much about his online sex life was Mayor Bloomberg holding over his head in 2009? Weiner abruptly decided not to enter the race in which he'd been widely seen as the Democratic frontrunner, complaining bitterly about the oppo that the mayor's campaign team had already aimed at him.
And the big question: How old? This came up repeatedly at the press conference, with reporters asking every which way about how young some of the women said they were, and how he could be sure of their ages. If it turns out any of them were under 21, even if they said otherwise online, this gets much uglier. Weiner's admitted he had no way to be sure, saying, "They're all adults — at least to the best of my knowledge. All I know is what these women post on social media."
We'll give the last word to Weiner, thinking out loud and a bit off message about the "conversations": "I don't have that sense that these were complete strangers. They were people I had relationships online [with], and I believed I had become friends with."