As the saying goes, “The truth shall set you free,” but that’s only when you start off telling the truth. When you build a facade of lies, it sometimes takes a while for the edifice to crumble and all of the lies to get exposed. Anthony Weiner’s belated strategy to stop lying has hardly inoculated him from the consequences of his attempts to cover up his on-line sexual antics, as TMZ demonstrated this morning, and that might have implications for a proposed ethics probe:
Weiner and former porn star Ginger Lee exchanged scores of sexual emails over a long period of time. When the underwear scandal broke on May 28, Lee began receiving calls from the media, and Weiner was more than happy to help her control the situation … by lying.
On June 2, Weiner emailed Lee, “Do you need to talk to a professional PR type person to give u advice? I can have someone on my team call. [Yeah, my team is doing great. Ugh].”
It’s unclear if Weiner’s PR team is from his Congressional staff. If so, Weiner could run afoul of House Ethics Rules as well as the law.
Any PR team would have to be either Congressional or campaign staff. If he used either for these purposes, Weiner could definitely run afoul of the law or ethics rules. If he used his staff to run PR for a porn star, one might think that the House Ethics Committee might muster enough outrage for a censure. If he had campaign staff work with Lee and his other correspondents, the FEC might take an interest unless he scrupulously discloses the expenditures from his campaign funds. That would be a rather interesting line on a report, wouldn’t it? “Public relations for porn star … $15,000.”
Don’t expect am Ethics probe to have much impact on Weiner. It’s beyond unlikely that the panel would recommend expulsion, even if Weiner used his staff to provide PR to a porn star. Charlie Rangel faced accusations of actual corruption and the committee refused to consider anything stronger than a censure. Nancy Pelosi says she wants the panel to open an investigation, but don’t be too encouraged by that, either. As Speaker, Pelosi allowed William “Cold Cash” Jefferson to sit on committees and operate almost as normal for years, and we managed to wait two years in vain for actual action against Maxine Waters for intervening with regulators at OneUnited, a bank in which her husband owned a significant financial stake.
If Weiner refuses to resign, no one will force him to leave, and outside of a House vote for expulsion, he can’t be compelled to do so. That doesn’t mean he shouldn’t. In my column for The Week, I argue that Weiner should resign his seat, and not just because of the sex scandal to which he finally confessed:
A week ago, Weiner could have addressed the media by admitting to the inappropriate social-networking behavior, apologizing to his wife and his supporters, and promising to learn his lesson and end all such contacts in the future. He would have looked foolish, immature, and perhaps even somewhat predatory and creepy. But the story would have ended in hours, and remained as nothing more than a political punchline. The national media would happily have turned their attention elsewhere, with any further disclosures disarmed by a full admission.
Instead, Weiner lied. He lied all week. He allowed his associates to attack the media for asking questions about a story that clearly did not add up. Weiner even allowed his staff to call the police on a well-known TV reporter from his city simply for wanting to ask Weiner more questions. In the end, Weiner still looks immature, foolish, creepy – and now he looks like a liar as well. …
Weiner went on interview after interview to deny that he had sent the tweet, blaming hackers and pranksters, and then scolded the press for wasting time asking him about the scandal. Weiner, who cultivated a following as a familiar talking head on cable shows, now has a very large credibility problem. When he speaks, who will believe him? What media source will allow any assertions by the congressman to stand on their own? Being a foolish, immature creep is one thing, but lying in an attempt to evade responsibility marks Weiner as eminently untrustworthy, not just in a marital sense, but also as a public servant.
It’s almost certainly true that Weiner didn’t break any laws by engaging in his extracurricular social-media tomcattery. It’s equally true that Weiner has made it clear that he will lie to get himself out of trouble until the moment when lies don’t work any longer, and only then tearfully admitting what everyone else knew despite his attempts to cover up the truth. The former means that Weiner doesn’t have to resign, but the latter means he probably should.
Not all politicians who get caught in sex scandals resign, not even (as some of my friends insist) all Republicans. Larry Craig didn’t resign, although most of his caucus demanded it, but retired at the end of his Senate term. David Vitter is still in the Senate. But Weiner put himself in a class all his own with his feigned outrage at the media, his serial lies, and his attempts to get others to lie for him to save his political skin. Weiner has destroyed any sense of trust and exposed himself (pun intended) as a shameless liar who will only tell the truth when no other options exist.
Republicans shouldn’t fool themselves into thinking that this is some windfall of political opportunity. While NY-09 is nominally a D+5 district, the last Republican to sit in this seat was Andrew Peterson … in 1923. Weiner coasted to a 20-point victory in November 2010 in a cycle that saw the GOP pick up 63 House seats. Weiner’s resignation won’t be a political opportunity; it will just be the right thing to do.