MANHATTAN (CN) — Wiping tears from his eyes in a packed federal courtroom, Anthony Weiner confessed Friday that his years-long social-media compulsion “hit bottom” with racy messages to an underage teenager.
“I have a sickness, but I do not have an excuse,” Weiner said on Friday, the coda of a half-decade-long public downfall.
The former New York congressman’s guilty plea this morning falls almost six years to the day he first posted a photo of himself in his underwear, visibly aroused, on his public Twitter account.
It also comes eight months after a British tabloid reported on sexually explicit messages Weiner sent a 15-year-old girl in North Carolina, spurring investigations by federal and local law enforcement in the Tar Heel and Empire States.
Waiving indictment and trial in Manhattan this morning, Weiner pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Loretta Preska to one count of transferring obscene materials to a minor.
Court papers corroborate the Daily Mail’s report that he used Internet messaging and video chat applications with a teenage girl, goading her to engage in sexual conduct and send pictures.
“I knew this was as morally wrong as it was unlawful,” Weiner said this morning.
Though Friday’s 7-page plea deal calls for a likely prison sentence of 21 months to 27 months, Weiner could still theoretically face up to 10 years behind bars and a $250,000 fine under the statute.
The 52-year-old must also register as a sex offender, and turn over the iPhone that wrecked his once-promising political career.
It was in 2011 that Weiner’s tenure in the U.S. House of Representatives fell apart, after he accidentally tweeted a suggestive photograph that he had apparently meant to send privately. The Democrat’s New York City mayoral run likewise tanked two years later amid reports that he sent another woman nude photos, calling himself Carlos Danger.
Embracing his brash, pugnacious and exhibitionist persona, the priapic politician gave documentary filmmakers unfettered access to record his mayoral campaign’s spectacular self-destruction.
Weiner’s honesty about his personal failings, combative stance toward his critics and humor about his “funny name” charmed audiences, even as these qualities brought repeated public humiliation to Weiner’s then-wife — Huma Abedin, a former top Hillary Clinton aide.
But the image of Weiner in court on Friday was one of a defeated man: wearing a drained expression, grasping his hands together, and bereft of the signature defiance that carried him through past upheaval.
“Beginning with my service in Congress and continuing into — forgive me, Your Honor,” Weiner said at the start of his allocation, unable to finish the first sentence of his prepared statement without crying.
“Take your time, sir,” Preska responded.
Weiner composed himself long enough to narrate his fall, in fits and starts.
“These destructive impulses brought great devastation to my family and friends, and destroyed my life’s dream in public service,” he said. “Yet, I remained in denial even as the world around me fell apart.”
The juice of tabloid fodder and late-night punchlines took a queasy turn through two tabloid bombshells, detonating at the height of the 2016 presidential race.
Weeks after the New York Post published a half-nude photo that Weiner sent of himself, lying on his bed with his infant son, the U.K. Daily Mail delivered the knockout blow about the North Carolina teenager in September.
On the road to criminal court, Weiner’s marriage to Abedin finally crumbled, and he finally sought treatment.
“This fall I came to grips for the first time with the depths of my sickness,” he said. “I — I had hit bottom. Through treatment, I found the courage to take a moral inventory of my defects. I began a program of recovery and mental health treatment that I continue to follow every day.”
Weiner’s personal fall carried profound political ripples.
Former FBI director James Comey reopened a previously closed investigation into Clinton’s private email server after believing that he found classified emails on Weiner’s laptop.
Though that probe led nowhere, then-Republican candidate Donald Trump gleefully used this development as a cudgel to bash Clinton toward the home stretch of his scorched-earth campaign for the presidency.
Weiner alluded to the collateral damage of his compulsion in the final lines of his statement.
“I apologize to the teenage girl whom I mistreated so badly, and I am committed to making amends to all those I have harmed,” he said.
The New York Post broke the story Friday afternoon that, just as Weiner was entering his plea in U.S. District Court, Abedin filed in the building next door to divorce him. Abedin is asking the Manhattan Supreme Court to seal the anonymous-versus-anonymous action. Since the filing is uncontested, according to the Post, it means Abedin does not expect Weiner to fight for custody or the couple’s assets.
Back in federal court, Weiner’s attorney emphasized his client has accepted “full responsibility for the inappropriate, sexually explicit communications he engaged in early last year.”
“He apologized, offered no excuses, and made a commitment to make amends,” Arlo Devlin-Brown, of the firm Covington Burling, said in a statement.
As to his client’s sentencing recommendation, Devlin-Brown noted that the offense conduct in this case “did not feature aggravating factors often present in cases of this kind.”
Leaving court on a personal-recognizance bail bond of $150,000, Weiner himself did not issue a statement to throngs of videographers, photographers and reporters waiting for him outside. Devlin-Brown noted that Weiner “remains focused on his recovery.”
Prosecuting the case were Assistant U.S. Attorneys Stephanie Lake and Amanda Kramer.
The case next moves to the courtroom of U.S. District Judge Denise Cote, who will sentence Weiner on Sept. 8 at 11 a.m.