THE career of a US congressman looks finished after an X-rated photo purported to be of his private parts went viral on the internet on the same day it was revealed his wife is expecting their first child.
New York Democrat Anthony Weiner was already battling calls to resign when he admitted – after a week of angry denials – that he sent dozens of lewd online messages and images to women across the US.
The rising star in the Democratic Party stood his ground, admitting he had lied but insisting he would not quit his congressional seat because he had done nothing illegal.
Further humiliation came yesterday, fuelling pressure from within Mr Weiner’s party for an end to the saga that could damage Democrats in next year’s election.
An image purportedly of Mr Weiner’s genitals surfaced on the internet after conservative blogger Andrew Breitbart shared a photo on his mobile phone during an interview with two shock-jocks from a New York radio station.
Mr Breitbart, who runs the BigGovernment.com website, passed his phone around the studio while telling Sirius XM radio hosts Opie and Anthony he did not intend to publish a lewd photo in his possession that Mr Weiner had sent “to a gal down in Texas” because he wanted to spare the congressman’s family.
The radio hosts took advantage of the moment, using footage from a surveillance video camera to take a still photo that they tweeted once the blogger had left their studio. Mr Breitbart said afterwards he was “mortified” and claimed the shock-jocks had broken their word. The photo, which does not show Mr Weiner’s face, soon appeared on Gawker and other websites.
Nursing his humiliation in his New York apartment, Mr Weiner found no solace in a former girlfriend yesterday, who had previously defended him after he told her another tweeted photo of him in his underpants that kicked off the scandal was a hacker’s prank.
Kirsten Powers said that “after recovering from the shock of seeing an old friend’s life unravel” she now believed there was “no other choice than for him to step aside”.
Mr Weiner’s wife of one year, Huma Abedin, is a senior aide to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and left with her for a tour of Africa in the midst of the scandal this week.
The New York Times revealed yesterday that Ms Abedin, who is reportedly upset but wants to keep the marriage going, is pregnant.
Former Democratic National Committee chairman Tim Kaine reinforced calls from party colleagues for Mr Weiner’s resignation yesterday by focusing on the congressman’s week of lies in which he had tried to cover up a steady stream of sexting antics.
Mr Kaine, a former Virginia governor now running for the US Senate, said: “Lying publicly about something like this is unforgivable and he should resign.”
The Weiner scandal bordered on the surreal at one point yesterday when Elliot Spitzer, the former Democrat governor of New York who quit after he was caught visiting prostitutes in 2008, interviewed Mr Breitbart about the alleged X-rated photo of Mr Weiner in his new role as a CNN news host, and appeared to concur with Mr Breitbart’s sentiments.
Most damaging to Mr Weiner, Pennsylvania congresswoman Allyson Schwartz, a Democrat who heads the party’s campaign committee, said her New York colleague should quit. “As Americans, we have the right to expect better behaviour from members of congress, leaders of our country,” Ms Schwartz said. “I don’t think we should accept it.”