By Mike Lillis and Daniel Strauss - 06/07/11 12:13 AM EDT
In a remarkable public confession, Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) on Monday acknowledged sending the lurid tweets and emails that have gripped Capitol Hill and spawned national headlines since they were first exposed 10 days ago.
The New York Democrat acknowledged that he lied to his wife and family, his staff and the press when he initially denied sending a lewd photo of himself to a Seattle college student last month.
“I don’t know what I was thinking,” Weiner said. “It was a destructive thing that I did that I accept responsibility for, but if you’re looking for some kind of deep explanation for it, I simply don’t have one.”
But Weiner, who fought back tears, denied any criminal wrongdoing, and vowed not to step down amid his sixth term representing parts of Brooklyn and Queens.
“I am deeply regretting what I have done, and I am not resigning,” he said at a circus of a press conference at a Sheraton Hotel in Manhattan. “I accept responsibility for this; people who draw conclusions about me are free to do so.
“I don’t believe that I did anything that violates any law or any rule.”
Weiner added, “I’ve never had sex outside my marriage.”
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) called for the House Ethics panel to investigate Weiner, a request echoed by Rep. Steve Israel (N.Y.), the chairman of the House Democratic campaign committee.
“I am deeply disappointed and saddened about this situation; for Anthony’s wife, Huma, his family, his staff and his constituents,” Pelosi said in a statement. “I am calling for an Ethics Committee investigation to determine whether any official resources were used or any other violation of House rules occurred.”
Pelosi and Israel were among the Democrats who had defended Weiner last week when he said his Twitter account was hacked, and his deceit leaves them in an embarrassing spot.
Weiner said he welcomed an ethics committee investigation.
“I welcome and will fully cooperate with an investigation by the House Ethics Committee,” he said in a statement.
Earlier in his press conference, he denied using government property to communicate with the women.
“My blackberry’s not a government blackberry; my home computer is usually where I did these things,” he said. “I don’t have a knowledge of every mass communication, but I don't believe that I used any government resources.”
Weiner said his wife only learned the truth about the photo on Monday, though he said she did know about some of the previous online relationships. He said some occurred before his marriage, and that some, “regrettably,” occurred after he was married.
“My wife knew about some of the online relationships before we were married, and we spoke frankly about them,” Weiner said. But he said she did not know the first leaked picture was him until Monday morning.
Weiner called the press conference hastily Monday after a conservative blog posted a series of photos depicting the New York Democrat bare-chested. BigGovernment.com, a website run by the conservative firebrand Andrew Breitbart, claimed Weiner had sent the pictures to an unidentified woman — a charge Weiner confirmed a few hours later.
Weiner becomes at least the fourth New York lawmaker to entangle himself in a lurid scandal in recent years. Former Reps. Chris Lee (R) and Vito Fossella (R) and former Gov. Eliot Spitzer (D) all stepped down after stories broke of their inappropriate relationships with women who didn’t happen to be their wives.
Some Republicans were quick to pounce, accusing Democratic leaders of being too soft on Weiner in the days after the allegations surfaced.
“It’s time for Democratic leadership to explain why Congressman Weiner’s actions never aroused any suspicion, and why they rushed to his defense while so many Americans were shocked and confused by his bizarre and disturbing behavior,” Paul Lindsay, spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee, said in a statement.
Dan Reilly, spokesman for Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, said the Maryland Democrat “has urged Mr. Weiner from the beginning that he needed to be truthful and put the facts on the table.”
The office of Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) declined to comment.
For Weiner, the firestorm began 10 days ago when a picture of an unidentified man in underwear was sent from his Twitter account to a 21-year-old community college student. Weiner initially denied sending the message, saying his account had been hacked. But he also raised plenty of eyebrows when he didn’t rule out the possibility that the photo depicted him.
On Monday, he changed his story and apologized more than 25 times, including a specific apology to Breitbart.
“To be clear, the picture was of me and I sent it,” he said.
Furthermore, he said he’s engaged in “inappropriate conversations conducted over Twitter, Facebook, email and occasionally on the phone with women I have met online.”
“I have exchanged messages and photos of an explicit nature with about six women over the last three years,” he said.
Weiner said he’s never met any of those women in person, but did not deny the possibility that he’d had sexually explicit phone conversations with any of them. Addressing the press moments earlier, Breitbart claimed he also has X-rated pictures of Weiner. Weiner suggested it’s possible such photos exist.
Weiner said he “spoke briefly” with Pelosi prior to Monday’s press conference.
“She said to be truthful and she said just to say what you know and was thankful that I was doing that today,” Weiner said.
He denied that either he or his office had ever urged any of the women to help cover up any of the lewd communications.
This story was originally posted at 4:29 and last updated at 8:13 p.m.