The storm surrounding beleaguered Rep. Anthony Weiner only intensified Wednesday, with key members of his own party distancing themselves from the New York Democrat and the prospects increasing for a costly ethics investigation that could require forensic analysis of his office communications and the deposition of staffers.
Weiner, in a lengthy and at times uncomfortable press conference on Monday, admitted to communicating and exchanging sexually explicit pictures with at least six women other than his wife, but he indicated he had no plans to resign. Although he might have hoped the press conference would tamp down the scandal, it has done anything but.
A host of Democrats are now calling for Weiner's resignation, including Pennsylvania Rep. Allyson Schwartz, a leader at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, Rep. Mike Michaud (Maine), Sen. Mark Pryor (Ark.) and ex-Virginia Gov. and former Democratic National Committee Chairman Tim Kaine.
"Having the respect of your constituents is fundamental for a Member of Congress. In light of Anthony Weiner's offensive behavior online, he should resign," Schwartz said in a statement.
Democrats were also ramping up pressure on Weiner behind the scenes, although leaders continued to pursue a soft-sell approach, hoping the New Yorker would leave office on his own accord. They fear he might dig in harder if he is subjected to more aggressive tactics.
DCCC Chairman Steve Israel (N.Y.) called Weiner on Wednesday to discuss the controversy, which has overtaken political discussions and essentially trampled the party’s Medicare messaging efforts.
According to informed sources, Israel did not push Weiner to resign or say he felt that was an appropriate step. Israel did use the conversation to express the growing frustration within the Caucus that Weiner’s scandal is not going away and has become an embarrassment and distraction for the party. A spokeswoman for Israel declined to comment on his conversation with Weiner.
Israel, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (Md.) have called for an ethics investigation into the scandal. Other rank-and-file Democrats have stopped short of calling for Weiner’s resignation but signaled that he does not have their support.
Beyond the political concerns, the personal humiliation got worse for Weiner on Wednesday, as media outlets circulated an alleged photo of his genitalia and the New York Times reported that his wife is pregnant.
Meanwhile, ethics experts suggest Weiner and his staff could be facing a prolonged and expensive investigation by the Ethics Committee. Other Democrats are "likely to be encouraging and egging on the process rather than being a brake on it," said Matthew Herrington of Steptoe & Johnson LLP.
The first step in any formal House Ethics Committee investigation would be a preliminary inquiry undertaken by Chairman Jo Bonner (R-Ala.) and ranking member Linda Sánchez (D-Calif.) to determine whether it is a matter serious enough to warrant the formation of an investigative subcommittee, which would then have the ability to discipline Weiner formally. Even if the inquiry does not progress to that stage, committee leaders could issue an informal report admonishing Weiner for his behavior, which could be politically damaging.
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