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Weiner’s Advice on Media Management Haunts Him

He's brash. Glib. New York cocky. There's a swagger as he struts through the Congressional corridors.

I've interviewed Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY) on-camera multiple times by the Will Rogers Statue in the Capitol. I've chatted with him in the Speaker's Lobby outside the House chamber. Listened as he held court in a hallway for a gaggle of journalists.

Every Capitol Hill reporter knows that if they see a clutch of their colleagues circling Anthony Weiner, they'd better get over because chances are, Weiner was going to say something no other lawmaker would dare say and you were going to miss it.

If you've spent as much time covering Weiner as I have, you would know his cadences and the timbre of his voice.

And as I watched Weiner speak at a Midtown Manhattan hotel Monday afternoon, his inflection on the seventh word that came out of his mouth told me something was wrong.

"Thank you very much for being here and good afternoon," Weiner said.

The Congressman's voice cracked on the word "here." I had never before heard his voice crack before. There was no Brooklyn neighborhood bravado. His modulation was thin and reedy.

"I have not been honest with myself, my family..."

It happened again. "Last Friday night I Tweeted a photo of myself that I intended to send as direct message as part of a joke to a woman in Seattle."

Weiner nearly swallowed the word "Seattle" whole, his voice trailing off.

The bluster was gone. Because Anthony Weiner was admitting he was a liar.

With certitude.

A liar for telling those of us in the press that someone hacked his Twitter account and sent a bulging crotch shot to "a woman in Seattle."

Weiner wounded his credibility even more by conducting an impromptu press conference in the Speaker's Lobby with reporters and cracking double entendres in a failed effort to disarm the press.

People make mistakes in Congress. But bald-faced lying falls in another galaxy. Especially on a venue like Capitol Hill where credibility is the stock in trade.

Weiner evolved into a media darling over the past few years. Imagine if he survives this. Will scads of reporters huddle around Weiner in Capitol press scrums to hear what he says?

Or can they trust him?

Weiner's Tweets aren't the only thing that's coming back to haunt him. His words are, too.

Weiner's jockeying with the press was the stuff of legend. Especially when he would take to the airwaves to spar with the hosts of FOX, CNN and MSNBC. In March, the Radio-TV Correspondents Association invited Weiner to be one of four lawmakers to deliver short comedy routines at its annual dinner.

"I have a reputation in town for being something of a master interview... because of my calm, insight and my poise," Weiner said, tongue in cheek. "I have some tips I want to offer to my colleagues as they're doing the interviews."

Weiner then showed clips of him sparring with various FOX hosts, ranging from Megyn Kelly to Bill O'Reilly to Sean Hannity to Mike Huckabee.

The tape sent the audience into spirals of laughter.

"Let's face it now. That's some dynamite TV," Weiner declared, noting that interview subjects should always keep eye contact with the reporter.

"For one, it shows that you are listening," Weiner said. "But it also shows respect so they don't think you're a jerk when you're done."

How about charlatan.

Granted, Weiner's routine was in jest and frankly a comedic riot. But really? That's all lawmakers need to do is make eye contact when they're on the air so the host won't "think you're a jerk."

Remember all of those journalists Weiner sat down with last week for interviews? Bret Baier. Wolf Blitzer. Luke Russert. Others. Wonder what they all think now after Weiner fibbed to them.

Within minutes of Weiner's news conference, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) called for the Ethics Committee to probe Weiner's conduct. In fact, Pelosi specifically asked investigators "to determine whether any official resources were used" by Weiner during Twittergate.

No fool she, Pelosi knew this was the only course of action she could take.

Just a few days ago, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) Chairman Steve Israel (D-NY) argued that control of the House of Representatives was now in play for 2012. Pelosi and Israel know that Republicans will howl about Weiner to maximize their political mileage. And with the House conceivably in play, anything that casts a pall over the Democrats is a major problem (See Foley, Mark).

Pelosi's ethics demand is akin to her 2005 request that investigators determine whether former Rep. Duke Cunningham (R-CA) illegally used Congressional resources to bribe lobbyists for gifts. Cunningham later resigned and is serving the longest prison sentence ever meted out to any lawmaker for official corruption.

But in many respects, Pelosi's maneuver mirrors efforts by House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) when Republicans were in the minority and faced ethics woes.

With one major difference.

After a 2008 drunk driving arrest, it came to light that then-Rep. Vito Fossella (R-NY) maintained a secret family in suburban Washington, DC. He was married with kids back in his Staten Island district. But Fossella had a toddler through a paramour in Alexandria, VA.

Fossella tinkered with running for office again.

Until Boehner spoke to him.

Last year, it was discovered that then-Rep. Mark Souder (R-IN) had an affair with one of his own aides. Souder wanted to serve out the balance of his term and then step aside.

Boehner wouldn't stand for it.

It's unclear what the conversation would have been like between Boehner and former Rep. Chris Lee (R-NY) this past February. Lee resigned even before Boehner could speak to him after the New York Republican emailed semi-nude photos to a woman on Craigslist.

So should Pelosi follow Boehner's lead and ask Weiner to step aside?

That's a tough call. Several Democratic lawmakers indicate to FOX that they feel betrayed by Weiner. He not only lied to the press but lied to them as well, claiming someone hacked his Twitter feed.

In addition, referring Weiner's conduct to the Ethics Committee is a double-edged sword. The panel moves at a Devonian pace. Even though an Ethics Committee inquiry is a serious matter, such a probe might not do Democrats any favors. A lengthy investigation could hang over Democrats like a sword of Damocles. That could harm Democrats politically if the inquiry lingers too long.

In March, 2010, Pelosi seized the gavel of then-House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charlie Rangel (D-NY) amid his ethics troubles. But stripping Rangel of his chairmanship did little to quash the public furor as the ethics investigation reached a fevered pitch shortly before the midterm elections.

During his remarks at the Congressional Correspondents Dinner, Weiner cracked a joke about Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN).

"Michele Bachmann, I don't know if she's here. She's probably not. She's campaigning in Iowa and organizing in that important caucus state because she's running for president," Weiner said. "That's really all I have for that joke."

Bachmann is expected to launch her campaign for president in a few days. And before this scandal, many political handicappers viewed Weiner as the frontrunner in New York's 2013 mayoral race.

And that's really all the handicappers now have for that joke.

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