WASHINGTON — The seamy scandal known as Weinergate was back in the spotlight on Wednesday as two women stepped out from the shadows: a one-time porn star serving up more details about her online involvement with Anthony Weiner and the congressman’s wife, who returned to the United States as Democrats hoped she’d convince her husband to quit.
Huma Abedin, a close aide and confidante to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, arrived back in the U.S. following a weeklong overseas trip with her boss. She went directly to the couple’s home in Washington early Wednesday as Weiner, on leave from Congress, undergoes professional treatment in New York.
In the early stages of pregnancy with the couple’s first child, Abedin left the country just two days after her husband made a tearful public confession about sending lewd photos and texts to several women, including former porn star Ginger Lee, both before and after their marriage last summer.
Democrats, including President Barack Obama, have been pushing Weiner to resign for days, but opted on Tuesday against formally punishing the New York congressman, hoping Abedin would prevail where they have so far failed.
Weiner has told colleagues he wanted to discuss resigning with his wife although earlier reports suggested Abedin didn’t think her husband should quit.
That was before a new batch of photographs emerged, however, that featured Weiner posing almost naked in the House of Representatives gym.
Meanwhile, Lee held a Manhattan news conference on Wednesday to detail her earlier claims that Weiner tried to convince her to lie about their communications in the early days of the scandal.
Lee said she didn’t initiate sexual talk with Weiner, whereas he made frequent references to his “package” in several emails.
“I have wardrobe demands too, I need to highlight my package,” Weiner allegedly wrote in one dispatch read aloud by celebrity lawyer Gloria Allred, representing the one-time porn star.
“We did communicate on a fairly regular basis,” said Lee. “However, I did not sext Anthony Weiner. I did not send photos to him or receive any from him.”
Republicans and Democrats alike have called for Weiner’s resignation, with Obama saying earlier this week that he’d quit if he were embroiled in a similar scandal.
Weiner might be taking some solace in Bill Clinton’s political survival. The former president officiated over the Weiner-Abedin nuptials last July, and the congressman reportedly called him to apologize for his bad online behaviour.
Clinton too faced relentless demands for his resignation when it emerged he’d had a series of sexual encounters with a White House intern in her early 20s, Monica Lewinsky, from 1995 to 1997.
He famously denied having “sexual relations with that woman.”
As the scandal broke, Clinton rode it out, survived an impeachment attempt by Republicans in 1998, and left office a year later with high approval ratings.
Not surprisingly, Abedin reportedly sought counsel from her boss, Hillary Clinton, no stranger to public humiliation due to her husband’s sexual transgressions.
Abedin is reported to have worn her wedding ring throughout her trip abroad. She hasn’t commented publicly on the scandal and isn’t expected to.
But these likely haven’t been easy days for the intensely private Abedin as a litany of news stories feature not just the latest batch of embarrassing photos of her husband in various stages of undress, but question why she’d choose to stay with him.
She added that she and the congressman have spoken over the phone only once, and that was when he offered advice on how to handle the barrage of media queries coming her way as the scandal erupted.
“He asked me to lie,” Lee said. “I refused to lie, so I went into hiding.”
The latest indignity came via the National Enquirer. The tabloid published a 28-year-old photo of Weiner in a bra and pantyhose on the cover of this week’s issue.
The photos were snapped when Weiner was just 18 by a college friend from the State University of Plattsburgh in 1982. The classmate described Weiner as a “flamboyant figure” who wore the women’s underwear as part of the school’s secret Santa festivities.
“It was never quite clear whether one of Anthony’s challenges was to become a cross-dresser or if it was just some bizarre stunt he decided to do on his own,” the classmate told the Enquirer.
“He was a very odd guy who went out of his way to do things purely for the shock value.”