In the span of only a few days, Rep. Anthony Weiner has firmly ensnared himself in what is fast becoming Capitol Hill's first Twitter sex scandal of sorts.
What began with a photo of grey underwear revealing a certain distinctive outline has mushroomed into a full-fledged obsession among bloggers who have engaged in spirited bouts of digital forensics--and among political reporters who have, so far unsuccessfully, pressed the New York Democrat for specifics.
Weiner's Twitter account was used last weekend to address that rather intimate photo to Gennette Cordova, a 21-year-old college student in Seattle who says she has never met the married politician. Weiner says his account was hacked.
Not helping the embattled member of Congress is his decision not to provide a flat denial, coupled with near-Clintonian vigilance about his word choice.
Weiner told MSNBC's Rachel Maddow yesterday that he doesn't "know for sure" the photo was of his erect genitalia, a claim that quickly drew hoots of derision even from some liberal commentators. "It could be" his erection, he acknowledged a moment later.
CNN's Wolf Blitzer asked Weiner: "Have you ever taken a picture of yourself like this?" The congressman's response: "I can tell you this, that there are--I have photographs. I don't know what photographs are out there in the world of me."
Cordova, the college student, fueled speculation with a subsequent note on Twitter saying: "I wonder what my boyfriend @RepWeiner is up to." In an essay for the New York Daily News, she said that "contrary to the impression that I apparently gave from my tweet, I am not his girlfriend." (An unscientific poll on the newspaper's Web site suggests that more than half of its readers think Weiner is lying.)
Meanwhile, amateur forensics researchers have turned l'affaire Weiner into a kind of spectator sport, poring over the metadata of the image and discussing whether the Yfrog image-posting service has a security hole that could have been exploited.
Rebuttals have been offered, as have questions about whether Weiner violated the rules of the House of Representatives. Cordova was subjected to exacting scrutiny, as was Weiner's colorful, and active, dating life before marrying Huma Abedin, an aide to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Slate.com assembled the evidence for and against Weiner's version of events.
It's also lent itself to memorable headlines, not least "The Woman Who Got A Face Full Of Anthony Weiner's Junk" and "Twitter After Dark: The Girls Of Weinergate." The U.K. Daily Mail published photographs titled "Weiner's women," saying: "Mr. Weiner, 46, has almost 50,000 fans on the social networking site, but he has chosen to follow just 198 in return--many of whom are attractive young females." One Twitter joke: Weiner's private parts are now "officially classified as UTO--Unidentified Tweeted Object!"
About the only ingredient this story lacked was a porn star. And it turns out that porn star and stripper Ginger Lee, a Twitter aficionado, mentioned in March that "you know it's a good day when you wake up" to a direct message from Rep. Weiner.
Weiner downplayed the interaction, telling CNN: "I think what this is about is a fairly pro forma thing that goes out that I send out to people as I follow them. Thank you for following me, please check in at AnthonyWeiner.com."
Hacking into someone's Twitter account is, of course, a federal crime. The Computer Fraud and Abuse Act generally says, generally, that anyone who "intentionally accesses a computer without authorization or exceeds authorized access" is guilty.
Weiner has said he's hired a law firm but has not contacted the FBI, which would normally have jurisdiction over the matter. "I want to make it clear this is, in my view, not an federal case," he said. "In my view, this is not an international conspiracy. This is a hoax, and I think people should treat it that way."
Which, in turn, has prompted speculation that Weiner's reluctance to contact authorities is because he did send the photograph. And making a false statement to law enforcement agents is, unlike possibly fibbing to journalists, a federal felony.