Weiner pleads guilty, and prosecutors recommend jail time

Former Rep. Anthony Weiner pleaded guilty on Friday morning to charges stemming from his sexually charged conversations with a 15-year-old, capping a long-running legal and political scandal whose impact was felt in Congress, New York City politics and the tumultuous 2016 presidential campaign.

At a court hearing in Lower Manhattan, Weiner admitted he knew the woman was underage, as part of a plea agreement that will require him to register as a sex offender. Prosecutors recommended a sentence between 20 months and 27 months as part of the agreement.

A tearful Weiner said his “destructive impulses” led him to send the explicit images, and he admitted to “encouraging her to engage in sexually explicit conduct” in late 2016.

“This fall, I came to grips for the first time with the depth of my sickness," Weiner said, his voice cracking.

"I had hit bottom," he told the judge, and said he “to take a moral inventory of my defects. … I accept full responsibility for my conduct. I have a sickness, but I do not have an excuse.”

Weiner, who was wearing a wedding ring, agreed to surrender his iPhone and passport, and he was released from court awaiting a sentencing on September 8. Weiner’s estranged wife, Huma Abedin, a longtime aide to Hillary Clinton, was not in the courtroom.

After the proceeding, Weiner shook hands with the F.B.I. agents who sat with the prosecutors, and was heard telling them, "I appreciate your service."

News of Weiner’s plea agreement was first reported by the New York Times early Friday.

Weiner has been a pariah in New York’s political class since he resigned from Congress in 2011, and his former colleagues were not eager to weigh in on his situation on Friday morning. A spokesman for Mayor Bill de Blasio’s campaign declined to comment Friday , as did a number of elected officials and former associates of Weiner.

One Democratic lawmaker simply told POLITICO New York that the situation was "too sad." A Republican in Queens who has no affection for Weiner also declined to comment, saying, "Piling on is unseemly."

Weiner’s text conversations became public last fall after the Daily Mail reported on suggestive photos that Weiner had allegedly sent, including one of his young son.

The investigation into those conversations ultimately included emails that had been forwarded to Weiner by his wife, Huma Abedin, a top aide to Hillary Clinton. Those emails caused the FBI to briefly re-open its investigation into Clinton’s use of a private email server last fall — a disclosure that rocked the presidential campaign in its final weeks. Clinton has suggested those disclosures may have cost her the election.

Weiner, a wiry Brooklyn native with a penchant for political combat, was an outspoken voice in the House of Representatives from 1999 until he resigned in 2011 following revelations that he had engaged in sexually explicit conversations with women on social media.

He had few defenders in Congress after he mistakenly Tweeted a picture of his crotch; Weiner claimed for days that he had been hacked, but eventually admitted that he had sent the message, which was intended for a young woman he had met online.

His 2011 press conference apologizing for those conversations was hacked by Andrew Breitbart, who seized the microphone and held court for nearly 15 minutes in a bizarre spectacle. Weiner later resigned after returning from rehab.

Weiner attempted to resurrect his career in 2013, when he announced his campaign for New York City mayor. His combative style made him a front-runner in the crowded field, but his bid was derailed after a woman disclosed sexually explicit conversations that had occurred after Weiner’s resignation from Congress, which also came around the same time Weiner had appeared in a People magazine story about how he and Abedin had worked through his problems.

Weiner’s approval rating dropped 20 points, but he resisted calls to end his campaign, and admitted there had been at least three women with whom he had carried on explicit conversations since his re-election. Weiner finished with just 5 percent of the vote.

One person who did comment for the record is Sal Albanese, who served in the City Council with Weiner in the late 1990s and was among his rivals in the 2013 Democratic mayoral campaign.

Albanese, who is running for the nomination again this year, told POLITICO New York that Weiner, "really needs to get help!"

Weiner started in politics as a young aide to Chuck Schumer, and his media-hungry style was often compared to his former boss. But the two were not as close as they were often portrayed in the press, and Weiner never committed himself to legislating in the same way that Schumer had.

In fact, Weiner’s desire for attention often frustrated his Democratic colleagues. A deal to secure benefits for 9/11 responders was almost derailed by a particularly impassioned floor speech from Weiner, in which he denounced Republican opposition. The speech made Weiner a cult hero to progressives, who often cheered him as an outspoken champion for liberal values, but frustrated the New York members who had spent months working to secure a bipartisan deal.

— Josh Gerstein contributed to this report.

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