How the Anthony Weiner Sexting Scandal Hit the Clinton Campaign in Bombshell ‘October Surprise’

One of Hillary Clinton’s closest aides is at the center of the new FBI investigation into the Democrat candidate’s emails after it emerged the evidence was discovered during an investigation into her husband.

Anthony Weiner is being investigated over allegations that he sent sexually explicit text messages to a 15-year-old girl, in the knowledge that she was still at school. Prosecutors in North Carolina, where the teenager lives, and in New York, where 52-year-old Mr Weiner is based, have opened inquiries.

Preet Bharara, the New York prosecutor known as one of the toughest in America, issued a subpoena for Mr Weiner’s mobile phone and other electronic records after the “sexting” came to light in September. It is believed this sparked the reopening of the closed investigation.

Hillary Clinton and Huma Abedin on the campaign plane, shortly before the scandal broke on Friday afternoon Credit: Andrew Harnik/AP
Hillary Clinton and Huma Abedin on the campaign plane, shortly before the scandal broke on Friday afternoon Credit: Andrew Harnik/AP

“In connection with an unrelated case, the FBI has learnt of the existence of emails that appear to be pertinent to the investigation,” wrote James Comey, FBI director, in a letter to Congress on Friday.

He did not specify what the “unrelated case” was, but it was widely believed to be that of Mr Weiner – the estranged husband of Huma Abedin, 40, Mrs Clinton’s closest aide.

Mrs Clinton thought that the issue of her email server – which has been a millstone round her neck since 2012 – was finally settled, with the FBI deciding in July not to charge her with any criminal offence.

Now commentators are noting how ironic it is that Mrs Clinton’s presidential campaign could be critically damaged by her most loyal aide – loyalty being the quality the Clintons prize above all others.

Yet Mr Weiner has long been a thorn in the Clintons’ side – despite their strong initial support of his relationship with Ms Abedin, who Mrs Clinton has said is like her second daughter.

Mr Weiner first noticed Ms Abedin in 2001; he was an ambitious congressman, representing New York, while she had first started working for Mrs Clinton five years previously, as a 19-year-old assigned to the then-First Lady’s office.

Initially Ms Abedin spurned him – despite Mrs Clinton urging her to go out with him on a date. They did, but Ms Abedin, who does not drink, ordered a tea, went to the bathroom, and left.

But he persisted.

By 2008, he had won her over and, in July 2010, they married, with Bill Clinton presiding.

But troubles were fast to come. Less than a year into their marriage, while Ms Abedin pregnant with their son, Jordan, now four, he accidentally made public a sexually-explicit photo he had intended for another woman.

He confessed and the couple remained together – although Mr Weiner resigned from congress.

Two years later, in 2013, Mr Weiner attempted to stage a comeback and run for mayor of New York after two previous attempts. But his campaign was thwarted by a second “sexting” scandal – this time using the memorable moniker Carlos Danger.

Again Ms Abedin stood by him.

But when he was revealed in September to have been “sexting” again, and with a child, Ms Abedin announced she was leaving him – and prosecutors said he could face up to 30 years in prison.

“I have repeatedly demonstrated terrible judgement about the people I have communicated with online and the things I have sent,” said Mr Weiner, adding he had “likely been the subject of a hoax.”

“I have no one to blame but me for putting myself in this position,” he said. “I am sorry.”

He had wrecked his marriage, embarrassed his high-profile wife, and called into question the judgement of his presidential matchmakers. But even he was unlikely to have ever imagined it could swing the US election.

Mrs Clinton was supposed to have handed over all evidence relating to her use of a private email server – something she instigated in 2009, when she was appointed secretary of state. The Weiner investigation shows she did not.

Donald Trump, her rival for the presidency, has said she should be tried and imprisoned for the act – whipping up chants of “lock her up” to echo around his rallies.

At a glance | Hillary Clinton’s emails

What’s all this about Hillary Clinton’s emails?
From 2009 to 2013, Clinton used a personal server and email address – hdr22@clintonemail.com – during her four years as secretary of state.

She also reportedly set up addresses for her aide, Huma Abedin, and State Department Chief of Staff Cheryl Mills.

She did not activate or use an official state.gov email account. That account would have been hosted on secure US government servers.

Why did she use a personal email address for official correspondence?
During a press conference at the UN, Clinton said that she preferred to carry just one smartphone with one email address, rather than have separate devices (one for work, one for personal emails). At the time, government-issued Blackberry phones were reportedly unable to access multiple email accounts.

So why the controversy?
Critics claim there was a security risk if restricted government business was sent over personal email servers (Clinton says no information in her emails was marked classified at the time she sent or received them). They also say Clinton could skirt around freedom of information requests and have sole control of what information was handed over to interested parties, like the congressional committee investigating 2012’s attack on the US consulate in Benghazi.

Were any rules broken?
It’s a legal grey area. Federal law during Clinton’s tenure called for the archiving of such private email records when used for government work, but did not set out clear rules or punishments for violations until rules were subsequently tightened after she left office. In 2011, when Clinton was secretary, a cable from her office sent to all employees advised them to avoid conducting any official business on their private email accounts because of targeting by unspecified “online adversaries.”

On 2 July 2016, Clinton was voluntarily interviewed by FBI officers for three and a half hours. Nick Merrill, her spokesman, said: “Secretary Clinton gave a voluntary interview this morning about her email arrangements while she was secretary.

“She is pleased to have had the opportunity to assist the Department of Justice in bringing this review to a conclusion. Out of respect for the investigative process, she will not comment further on her interview.”

On 5 July, the FBI announced it will not recommend criminal charges in relation to the investigation,

How many emails are we talking?
Clinton says she sent or received 62,320 emails while secretary of state. Her lawyers say 30,490 of those were official and they’ve been turned over to the State Department.

Mrs Clinton said the remaining emails are private and are about matters like her daughter’s wedding and her mother’s funeral.

Mrs Clinton says she felt she was doing nothing different to what her predecessor at the state department had done. Colin Powell had used a private email account – but, crucially, he never had his own private server. Madeleine Albright and Condoleezza Rice never used email; John Kerry now uses a state.gov email address.

Mrs Clinton used several clintonemail.com addresses, from a server housed in the basement of her New York home.

And it was not until March 2013 when a well-known hacker, “Guccifer,” accessed and distributed emails sent to Mrs Clinton from her confidant Sidney Blumenthal that the existence of her clintonemail.com address was revealed.

The drip, drip of revelations had begun.

The following summer, lawyers from the state department investigating the 2012 Benghazi attack – which killed Chris Stevens, ambassador to Libya – noticed emails from Mrs Clinton’s personal account. In response to their lawyers’ requests, Mrs Clinton’s team delivered 12 file boxes filled with printed paper containing more than 30,000 emails.

But, crucially, she withheld almost 32,000 emails deemed to be of a personal nature. That decision, too, would come back to haunt her.

“On economic policy, the UK is no partner and no bridge to Europe”

– Aide Sidney Blumenthal to Clinton six weeks after the election

“Losing is tough. When you win the party members and the MPs doubly so. (When it’s your brother…)”

David Miliband to Clinton four days after losing the Labour leadership

“As you know I have good links to the Qataris”

Cherie Blair lobbying Clinton to meet members of the Qatari royal family

“Gefilte fish… Where are we on this?”

Clinton tracking a trade dispute over nine containers of the Jewish fish dish

“I love you. I respect you. I miss you. I cherish every moment of our remarkable journey together. God Speed. Dear Sis”

Old friend Roy Spence to Clinton

“Can you give me times for two TV shows: Parks and Recreation and The Good Wife?”

Clinton to aide Monica Hanley

In Nov 2015, the FBI expanded its inquiry to examine whether Mrs Clinton or her aides had jeopardised national security secrets.

She was questioned over the July 4 holiday for three hours. The FBI later released the testimony in which it was revealed that aides had destroyed her old Blackberry phones with a hammer.

On July 5, the FBI concluded its investigation.

Mr Comey strongly criticised Mrs Clinton for using a private server, stating that it “is possible that hostile actors gained access to Secretary Clinton’s personal email account.”

Yet he recommended there was no criminal case to answer.

Mrs Clinton and her team breathed a huge sigh of relief and felt that the seven-year saga was over.

That, too, now appears to have been unwise.

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