House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) quickly called for an ethics investigation of Rep. Anthony Weiner’s (D-NY) sexting after Weiner held a lengthy press conference admitting to the extramarital online activity and lying to try to cover it up.
“I am deeply disappointed and saddened about this situation; for Anthony’s wife, Huma, his family, his staff and his constituents,” Pelosi said in an statement. “I am calling for an Ethics Committee investigation to determine whether any official resources were used or any other violation of House rules occurred.”
Weiner appears to have more questions to answer about his use of Congressional resources to conduct the online relationships with some six women over the course of three years.
At one point after Weiner called her, one woman, Meagan Broussard, told ABC News that she called Weiner back to see if it was actually him, and an “office receptionist answered,” according to the the report. Broussard provided a record of the call to ABC News.
A broad ethics rule says members should not engage in activity that reflects badly on the House as an institution, but lawmakers are rarely investigated for breaking this rule alone.
After Weiner’s press conference, the head of the House Democratic re-election efforts also sought to distance himself from Weiner and agreed with Pelosi’s decision to call for an ethics investigation into the matter.
Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Steve Israel (D-NY) said Weiner engaged in “a deep personal failure and embarrassed himself, his family and the House,” but stopped short of calling for him to resign.
“Ultimately, Anthony and his constituents will make a judgment about his future,” Israel said in the statement. “To remove all remaining doubt about this situation, I agree with Leader Pelosi’s request that the House Ethics Committee use its authority to begin an investigation.”
Ethics experts had a mixed opinion of the matter, saying the request for an ethics investigation was warranted more for his efforts to cover-up the matter than for the sexting itself.
“Given the media attention and Rep. Weiner’s public denials then retractions, Minority Leader Pelosi is absolutely right in asking the Ethics Committee to make an inquiry into this matter to determine if any official resources were used or any other violation occurred,” said the Campaign Legal Center’s Meredith McGehee.
“While this may involve only private behavior, there remains a standard of conduct which deals with bringing discredit to the institution,” she added. “That said, even public officials are entitled to privacy, especially when it comes to sexual behavior.”
Melanie Sloan of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington said limited personal use of an office phone is allowed, otherwise any time any staffer used the phone to make weekend plans there would be a potential violation.”
The ethics committee could look into whether anything Weiner did constituted harassment — either of the women involved or whether his conduct created a hostile work environment, Sloan said. But she predicted that the Ethics Committee wouldn’t be too interested in looking into a lawmaker’s sexually inappropriate conduct because “the committee’s work would never be done.”
“Unless there is more, to me, the biggest issue is all the lying to cover up his conduct,” Sloan said. “I think that does not reflect creditably on the House. The rest of it is really a character issue for his wife and constituents to consider.”
Sloan also said the committee could decide to depose Weiner, requiring him to explain the entire sexting saga.
“That way if anything else comes out, they have him on a criminal false statements charge,” she said.