MANHATTAN (CN) — Not used to making amends beyond an apology, disgraced former congressman Anthony Weiner appeared shocked and crushed on Monday upon learning that his racy chats with a teenager would land him in prison for nearly two years.
Gasping before breaking down into tears, Weiner sobbed into a tissue after U.S. District Judge Denise Cote pronounced her 21-month sentence.
Even though prison term tilted toward the lower end of what prosecutors demanded after Weiner pleaded guilty in May, the 53-year-old seemed gobsmacked by its severity. Weiner had bounced back before — after his explicit chats with grown women made him the punchline of late night TV comics, torpedoed his career and finally sank his marriage to former Hillary Clinton aide Huma Abedin.
Weiner’s remarkable ability to revert to his old behaviors following repeated public humiliation prompted Assistant U.S. Attorney Amanda Kramer to call for tougher action.
“Something more and different is required, beyond personal and professional consequences, beyond the collateral consequences that he has faced before, beyond the scrutiny of the public, all of which have failed to sufficiently deter him in the past,” she said.
Ultimately, Judge Cote had been moved less by reforming Weiner than sending a message about his crime. She said that the former congressman’s “notoriety” called out for a strong sentence.
“Because of the defendant’s notoriety, gained well before he engaged in this criminal activity, there is intense interest in this prosecution, in his plea, and his sentence, and so there is the opportunity to make a statement that could protect other minors,” Cote said, tacking a $10,000 fine and sex-offender registration onto Weiner’s sentence.
Abedin, who has filed for divorce from Weiner, did not appear in court today.
Acting U.S. Attorney Joon Kim applauded this morning’s sentence.
“Anthony Weiner, a former congressman and candidate for mayor, asked a girl who he knew to be 15 years old to display her naked body and engage in sexually explicit behavior for him online,” Kim said in a statement. “Justice demands that this type of conduct be prosecuted and punished with time in prison.”
Weiner had pleaded for probation to continue with his sex-addiction treatment and remain a presence in his son’s life.
“Jordan has been my salvation, the one perfect thing in my life,” Weiner told the judge.
Parent-child visitation could prove difficult for Weiner, who may be bound for the maximum-security Metropolitan Detention Center, his lawyer said, because of the length of his sentence.
Judge Cote rejected Weiner’s request to recommend a lower-security facility, and no specific prison has yet been assigned.
Ahead of this morning’s court appearance, Weiner has been immersed in therapy twice a week, even hobbling into sessions after recovering from knee surgery.
Arlo Devlin-Brown, an attorney for Weiner with the firm Covington & Burling, argued that incarceration would disrupt a promising road to recovery.
“Anthony doesn’t need prison, your honor, to continue on this path toward wellness,” Devlin-Brown said, noting that Weiner’s psychiatrist made the same observation.
Recovery “can be done outside of prison, and the cold reality, your honor, is it won’t happen in prison,” the attorney added later.
Judge Cote agreed that Weiner appears to be taking treatment seriously for the first time.
“He has thrown himself into this treatment as intensely as he has thrown himself into so many other things he has done in his life,” she said. “I think that’s one of the hallmarks of his activity as it’s been described to me in the submissions I have received. It’s one of intensity, and now he is intensely engaged in his treatment.”
Defense attorney Devlin-Brown related the depths of his client’s old obsessions.
“He had exchanged hundreds of messages, or probably thousands of messages, with hundreds of women over the years,” Devlin-Brown said.
Weiner told the judge that he recognized this behavior from his own family.
“I know there is a name for people who act like that, an addict,” he said. “I recognized it in my brother Seth, who was killed by his addiction, but I couldn’t see it in myself.”
Judge Cote confirmed that it was Weiner’s 15-year-old victim who initiated their chats.
“She contacted him,” he said. “He was notorious.”
Telling investigators that she had hoped to influence to the presidential election, the girl with whom Weiner chatted also made $30,000 by selling their explicit conversations to the U.K. Daily Mail.
For Weiner, however, such motives are irrelevant, Cote found.
“She was a minor,” the judge said. “She was a victim. She is entitled to the law’s full protection.”
Defense attorney Devlin-Brown meanwhile cast Weiner’s story as one filled with central actors without agency: his client, led astray by his addiction, and a 15-year-old, too immature to share any responsibility but young enough to be a victim.
“As a morality play, it’s a complicated one,” Devlin-Brown said. “It is one I think without any true villains.”
Ordered to report to prison on Nov. 6, Weiner remained in the courtroom, crying and slumped in his chair, after Cote adjourned the hearing. He later joined and embraced his attorneys, then darted off with them, refusing to take any questions.