After a college student received a lewd picture from the Twitter account of Rep. Anthony Weiner, the New York Democrat seemingly had two choices. He could either duck the controversy or address it head-on.
Instead, on Wednesday, Weiner opted for a third way.
Weiner talked — on cable news and to reporters in the Capitol’s hallways — and talked. And around the Capitol “Weiner-gate,” as the controversy is being dubbed, was the topic of lunch-table gossip.
But for all that verbiage, Weiner did not answer the single, crucial question on which the scandal hinges: Was it, or wasn’t it, the Congressman in the picture sent to that college student in Washington state?
In an interview on MSNBC, the seven-term Congressman couldn’t say “with certitude” that it was. Or wasn’t. And what started as a frontal public relations assault designed to quell Weinergate seemed to only fan its flames.
The scandal that some say Weiner, considered to be a frontrunner in the 2013 New York City mayoral race, could cool by disavowing the picture with a simple, one-word answer, began in a world bound by 140-character restrictions.
On Friday, a photograph of underwear-clad male genitalia reportedly was sent to a woman via Weiner’s Twitter account. Weiner quickly deleted the picture and claimed he was the victim of a hacker.
In his interview with MSNBC, Weiner said he did not post the picture and that he was simply “a victim of a prank.”
Weiner told MSNBC he was hiring a private investigator to look into the incident rather than filing a formal complaint with law enforcement agencies. Capitol Police and the FBI have said they are not investigating the matter.
Another cable interview on Tuesday, this one with CNN, similarly boomeranged on Weiner. His exchange with CNN reporter Dana Bash and producer Ted Barrett grew testy when the Congressman refused to answer repeated questions of whether he was the man in the photo. He wound up calling Barrett a “jackass” on the air.
So much for damage control.
And the cringe-inducing moments continued when CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on Wednesday pressed Weiner about not being able to recognize the underpants worn by the man in the photo. The skivvies “didn’t look familiar to me,” Weiner avowed.
Although Weiner was talking — about underwear and investigations and pranks — on Wednesday afternoon, most of his colleagues were staying publicly mum on the topic.
“I can’t comment on that,” House Ethics ranking member Linda Sánchez (D-Calif.) said.
Fellow New York Rep. Peter King (R) also steered clear of the issue.
“It’s a law enforcement issue, and I’m not going to comment on that,” King said.
On Tuesday, Democratic Caucus Chairman John Larson (Conn.) feigned ignorance and refused to comment, while Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) offered only a few words of encouragement to his scandal-struck colleague.
“Hang in there,” he told Weiner as the New York lawmaker was trailed by numerous reporters.
In addition to ducking most hallway interviews Wednesday, Weiner was quieter than usual on Twitter, a rarity for a man known for his prolific and clever Tweets.
Not surprisingly to those familiar with Weiner’s fiery temperament and penchant for public dramatics, his cable news tour came less than 24 hours after he vowed to stop commenting on the issue.
“The decision that I’ve made … after two and a half days of various statements that answer these questions, that I’m not going to keep drilling into further details and further details — even the questions, even the obvious questions, even the questions I’ve answered before, because I don’t believe in the idea that you believe in that ‘Oh, this will end it,'” he told reporters Tuesday.
If Weiner thought that talking wouldn’t end the controversy, he could be certain that not saying what his role is in it wouldn’t either.
Anna Palmer contributed to this report.