Anthony Weiner
Photo credit: Coalition for Queens / Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Anthony Weiner heads to prison today. Still unaddressed: Was Weiner — with his known weaknesses — targeted as part of a successful effort to derail Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign?

Today, Anthony Weiner enters a federal prison hospital in Massachusetts to begin serving a 21-month sentence for his online relationship with an underage girl. He’ll be in an intensive counseling and treatment program.

On its face, the final act of Weiner’s protracted and ugly fall seems straightforward — a sordid tale of a self-destructive middle-aged politician’s exploitative cyber-relationship with a minor. And, make no mistake, that is much of the story.

But close scrutiny reveals far more to it than meets the eye.

Given his admitted culpability in a sex-crime, Weiner’s imprisonment would indeed seem a fitting last act in this saga — were it not for facts pointing to his original indictment having played a significant role in Donald Trump’s surprise presidential victory.

Because it did play a role, it’s important to understand whether the timing of that investigation was just a lucky coincidence for Trump — or something more insidious.

A thorough WhoWhatWhy investigation seems to suggest the latter. Our work has turned up a fascinating cast of characters, some with political connections, who were closely connected to a sequence of events that began with a teenage girl in North Carolina sending fan messages to Congressman Weiner, and ended in one of the biggest electoral upsets in American history. (We will only refer to her as “the girl” since she is still under 18 and the victim of a sex crime.)

When WhoWhatWhy went to the girl’s hometown to connect some dots, we encountered a wall of silence. Doors were slammed in our faces and people with knowledge of what happened threatened to call the police or take legal action if we persisted in our inquiries.

While that made our work more difficult, it did not stop us from assembling enough pieces to this puzzle to arrive at some telling initial conclusions.

These include the fact that the girl’s actions were shaped by adults besides Weiner himself, including her own father and a Trump surrogate. Did they manipulate a teen into her peculiar aspiration to be, as she told at least two people, “the next Monica Lewinsky?”

And was this intended not only to compromise an easily-snared Weiner, but also to achieve a historic coup: preventing the pre-ordained election of America’s first woman president, Hillary Clinton?

Background and New Doubts


Readers may recall how the revelation of Weiner’s interactions with a minor resulted in the federal seizure of a laptop containing some of then-candidate Clinton’s emails. That, in turn, led then-FBI Director James Comey to reopen his investigation into the Clinton email scandal less than two weeks before Election Day — and to send a letter to Congress making this fact known.

This may have been just the boost Donald Trump needed to put him over the top.

Although we apparently got a key identification wrong, WhoWhatWhy appears to have been vindicated in its early — and essentially lone — effort to raise questions about the roots, growth and impact of this singularly consequential tabloid moment.

Back in May, we first reported that the “sexting” episode resulting in Weiner’s arrest may have been driven in part by a deliberate effort to harm Clinton. We detailed the role of Trump sympathizers in making sure the story took hold and gained maximum attention, while also looking at ties to the law enforcement agencies that acted with surprising speed and vigor — a response which led to the discovery of Clinton’s emails on the computer used by Weiner and his wife, top Clinton aide Huma Abedin.

One of these Trump allies was the notorious right-wing provocateur Chuck C. Johnson, who rated high enough in the new president’s firmament to snag a coveted invite to his super-secretive victory party. Multiple sources have informed WhoWhatWhy that Johnson and the girl communicated during the time she was sexting with Weiner. While the details of their conversations are murky, the very fact that the girl and Johnson communicated seems highly significant.

Johnson is especially close to deep-pocketed fellow “right-wing populist” Erik Prince, founder of the mercenary army formerly called Blackwater.

As we mentioned in our previous story on Weiner, Johnson paid an undisclosed amount of money to surface the Weiner sexting story, and — he bragged to WhoWhatWhy — he brought women to the final debate press conference who had leveled charges of sexual assault at Bill Clinton. “I was the one who arranged the whole thing,” Johnson said. “From top to bottom.” (Johnson told WhoWhatWhy that he spent a whopping total of one million dollars of his own money on opposition research against Hillary Clinton.)

One important fact that has not been appreciated until now is the timing of the damaging article in that pro-Trump publication. It ran on September 21, 2016 — just one day before the girl’s 16th birthday. This made it possible for to release it when it served to benefit Trump the most in the polls: while still referring to the girl as being 15, which is below North Carolina’s (and most states’) age of consent.

Recently, the New York Times lent significant — if typically subtle and easily overlooked — credence to WhoWhatWhy’s early hypothesis that there was more to the story than Weiner’s illicit and disturbing conduct.

Up until then, Weiner’s attorney, Arlo Devlin-Brown, himself had expressed no doubts at all about the media-consensus account of what happened — which painted the story as nothing more than a deviant Weiner taking advantage of a teenage girl.

That changed on September 13. In a story mainly about Weiner’s remorse and struggle to avoid jail time, the paper quoted from a memo put together by Devlin-Brown — selecting comments that implicitly raised flags about the motivation behind the girl’s contacting Weiner in the first place.

This is significant because, until then, the news media had given no consideration to larger forces being in play.

In addition, the Times offered a reversal of an earlier narrative the girl herself had advanced in an interview with BuzzFeed, in which she had claimed to be mortified to have inadvertently damaged Clinton’s chances of being elected.

She also told investigators that she hoped “somehow to influence the U.S. presidential election, in addition to securing personal profit.”

The next day, the Times ran a piece which amplified Devlin-Brown’s questions about the girl’s motives and cyber-messaging behaviors. In it, the defense counsel’s memo was quoted in detail, describing the girl’s highly sexualized attempts to get “Anthony to act out” — beginning with her initial messages to him, which offered to “prove she had a vagina” — as well as her “selectively taking screenshots of her phone to document the exchanges before they disappeared.”

Most tantalizingly, Devlin-Brown — who had declined multiple requests for interviews from WhoWhatWhy during the course of our earlier investigation — asked the court to provide evidence “relating to political motivations by the victim or her father to damage [Clinton],” and “disclosures made to the Trump campaign or its surrogates” before the exclusive publication of the Weiner allegations on the mass-circulation, conservative tabloid news site

One important fact that has not been appreciated until now is the timing of the damaging article in that pro-Trump publication. It ran on September 21, 2016 — just one day before the girl’s 16th birthday. This made it possible for to release it when it served to benefit Trump the most in the polls: while still referring to the girl as being 15, which is below North Carolina’s (and most states’) age of consent. reached out to the 15-year-old girl’s family earlier this month after receiving information about her relationship with Weiner.

Moreover, in light of how the sexting relationship would come to be portrayed by the media, and most importantly the FBI, the girl and her father offered a puzzling rationale as to why they approached not law enforcement but a right-wing tabloid known for paying sources.

Although the girl said she did not want to press charges because she believes her relationship with Weiner was consensual, she and her father agreed to sit down for an interview out of concern that Weiner may be sexting with other underage girls.

While the girl’s depiction of her cyber-relationship with Weiner as “consensual” can easily be chalked up to teen naivete, her father facilitating (and taking part in) a paid interview before alerting authorities seems less innocent.

His actions, though atypical, might not be so mysterious. Sources inside the family complain that, strapped for cash, he began dipping liberally into his daughter’s $30,000 interview fee as soon as the check cleared.

Further evidence that the girl’s priorities may have been shaped by her father’s need for money comes from Sydney Leathers, a cyber-paramour of Weiner’s, who derailed his 2013 mayoral run and was contacted by the girl during May of 2016. “I told her to go to the police, she didn’t want to go to the police,” Leathers told WhoWhatWhy.

WhoWhatWhy Digs Deeper


Coverage of Weiner’s online relationship with the 15-year-old girl has been unrelenting and focused solely on Weiner. Not only was the episode lurid (and therefore prime fodder for a voyeuristic public), but it represented the final debasement in Weiner’s long-running, much-chronicled pattern of self-destructive behavior.

Beginning in 2011, separate, highly publicized sexting incidents with women in their 20s torpedoed first his congressional career and then, after he had partially recovered, a formidable, populist-oriented bid to become mayor of New York City.

But Weiner’s well-known lack of self control had put him in the crosshairs of Republican apparatchiks looking to further embarrass him, his wife Huma Abedin and, by extension, her boss Hillary Clinton. This, combined with the far-reaching effects of the Weiner criminal investigation, should have spurred journalists to dig further.

Since our last report on the scandal, WhoWhatWhy has conducted lengthy interviews with two close family members who possess direct knowledge of Weiner’s accuser’s actions and private statements. (One of these sources read our piece without recognizing the misidentification, contacting us only to supplement the record, but was instrumental in correcting a reporting error in which we focused on another, slightly older, girl who attended the same school.)

The sources each maintain that the girl’s father — her main custodian during the period she and Weiner were carrying on a cyber-fling — encouraged her efforts to communicate with the 53-year-old politician. Perhaps taking her cue from her father, who we were told struggled financially due to a serious gambling problem, the girl herself spoke repeatedly about wanting to profit financially from her cyber-affair with Weiner.

“She talks constantly of ‘[financial] restitution,’” says one of the sources, who also notes she has embraced our society’s unfortunate equation of fame and infamy.

“I want to be the next Monica Lewinsky,” the girl told family members separately, referring to the White House intern whose sexual relations with Bill Clinton in the late 1990s nearly took down his presidency.

That the girl wanted to damage Hillary Clinton — a disclosure that has not received wide attention — is not totally new, having first been noted in passing in a wide-ranging May 2017 New Yorker piece about Comey’s firing. In a private Facebook message, which in turn scolded and warned Weiner for his behaviors, Leathers wrote in part, “She’s talking about potentially messing with Hillary’s campaign.” (Leathers went on to receive a payout from for helping to arrange the interview with the girl.)

The girl has not been shy about accepting selected high-profile opportunities to put out her message — a message that never deviates from the theme that she was a naive innocent with benign motives when she contacted the radioactive politician. This September 13, she appeared on the tabloid show Inside Edition, with her image unobscured for the first time, and repeated that line:

“I just sent him a nice message: ‘Hello, I’m a huge fan,’ she recalled, but said that after he sent her some shirtless photos of himself, she “realized it was going downhill.” She adds, “I was disgusted. … That’s part of the reason I came forward.”

This is a slight variation of the account she first gave to back in September. The new interview raises two vexing questions that the previous interviewer failed to touch upon. How did a 15-year-old girl become a “huge fan” of a congressman from a faraway state, who resigned in disgrace when she was 10 years old? Indeed, how many people of any age would consider themselves “a huge fan” of Weiner in his years of disgrace? And if the girl was so disgusted with Weiner from the get-go, why did she carry on communicating with him for six more months?

Besides her father’s reported financial motives (he declined to speak to WhoWhatWhy) and her own desire for notoriety, another partial answer to the riddle may lie in the influence of Leathers — a constant, somewhat contradictory, media presence throughout the entire scandal.

First contacted by the girl in May, 2016, Leathers’ initial reactions included asking her own therapist to notify North Carolina Child Protective Services about what she was told (nothing came of it); she also, as related above, warned Weiner about the girl’s motives and profited from setting up her interview. Most recently, she told the Post that, for her, the news that Weiner would do time was “a birthday gift.

In a telephone interview with WhoWhatWhy after our second Weiner piece, Leathers wondered, albeit in a limited way, how she might have served as a model for the troubled girl’s behavior. The girl had spoken with at least one other media personality about Weiner around May, gossip blogger Nik Richie. He was the person Leathers tipped off in 2013 about her own cyber-sex with Weiner, allowing his website The Dirty to break the story.

“I don’t know if she was just trying to do what I did or whatever, but she went to Nik and he approached me,” Leathers said.

After the girl and her father sold her story for $30,000 to, the ramifications of Weiner’s dalliance quickly went far beyond those intimately involved. By late October, 2016, it had spiralled into a renewed investigation of Clinton’s State Department emails.

The investigation was quickly pronounced over, but by that time it was two days before the election — and Trump had re-gained much needed momentum, according to opinion polls. In a September 13, 2017, piece devoted to Weiner’s sentencing, the Times reminded us that back in May “Clinton attributed her loss in part” to the last-minute FBI investigation. And Clinton re-asserts that point in her new book.

To be sure, Clinton has displayed a face-saving tendency to pin much of the blame for her surprise loss on other people and external factors, generating widespread criticism. But the May claim is indeed supported by polling data.

Hillary Rodham, Huma Abedin

US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in Brussels, Belgium December 4, 2009 with Huma Abedin on far right.
Photo credit: U.S. Department of State / Flickr

In May of this year, WhoWhatWhy published an 8,000-word investigation which posited that the former FBI director’s bombshell October 28, 2016 announcement was far from being just lucky happenstance for Trump. Instead, according to our analysis of the available facts, Comey may have been manipulated by a well-oiled pro-Trump media machine. Trump forces were able to use Weiner’s improper sexting relationship to animate their base and breathe life into a recycled right-wing scenario placing the Clintons in a web of criminality.

Moreover, confident predictions by Trump surrogates such as Rudy Giuliani and Erik Prince that Clinton would be defeated by an “October Surprise” that the Trump team had up their sleeve indicate an awareness of something big to come. Both Giuliani and Prince have deep ties to the NYPD and the FBI, raising the question of whether their confidence came from back-channel cooperation between these surrogates and friends in law enforcement.

Another campaign surrogate with solid premonitions was Trump’s daughter-in-law, Lara. On October 21, she and husband Eric visited GOP headquarters in Gaston County, North Carolina — where Weiner’s sexting victim lived. Three days later, Lara Trump appeared on Fox and Friends and predicted a late-breaking “October Surprise.” That surprise, of course, was not the Weiner scandal itself — but that FBI Director Comey would within a few days time open a new Clinton investigation because of Weiner.

Three days before the election, Chuck Johnson’s aforementioned friend Erik Prince gave an interview on Breitbart Radio, telling the host that he had learned what was hidden on Weiner and Abedin’s shared laptop from well-placed sources in the NYPD. He said it included smoking-gun evidence of “money laundering” and of a Clinton “sex island” with “under-age sex slaves,” adding further that Abedin ​was​ “an agent of influence very sympathetic to the Muslim Brotherhood.​”​ None of these assertions held up, but for the next four days they would spread like wildfire on ​right-wing​ news sites, re-igniting the fake news “pizza-gate” scare and renewing cries of “lock her up.”

Whether the girl and/or her father played a role, wittingly or otherwise, in a larger political operation remains unclear. One thing is certain, however: the “October Surprise” and the boost it gave Trump would have been impossible without them.

Getting to the bottom of this complicated but historically important tale has not been easy. We  have had both successes and failures in following the myriad strands.

Anthony Weiner

Photo credit: Adapted by WhoWhatWhy from Coalition for Queens / Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0) and Twitter

Our initial report on this matter concentrated on inconsistencies in how the mainstream media reported the story. It also drew attention to indications that the accounts of the victim and her father could not be taken at face value. And it probed their motivations in seeking to publicize the Weiner matter in the manner they did at the time they did.

The victim’s identity was not then known, but a source provided us with what he felt — and what appeared to be — a match. That resulted in our next article on the topic. As it turned out, that identification was of a second person from the same town and school who — as her own mother indicated to us — may also have played some role in the interactions with Weiner, possibly as part of a “group project.” This conflation resulted in our erroneously stating (we have since taken down that second article) that the victim had falsely claimed to be underage when she was not, and that the father had a criminal record. Those facts applied to the other girl.

Amid all these complications and intimations of intrigue, it is easy to lose sight of the big picture: A man closely tied to the frontrunner in the presidential race, a man with known moral failings, was targeted — very likely for political gain. If that was the plan, it succeeded. And the country is living with the consequences.

We believe, however, given the potentially disastrous nature of the Trump presidency, that the Weiner matter is not just some obscure and sleazy footnote to the 2016 campaign — but a piece of the hidden backstory of America’s current trajectory. We will continue to investigate. And we are happy to hear from anyone who can shine additional light.

Related front page panorama photo credit: Adapted by WhoWhatWhy from Anthony Weiner (Coalition for Queens / Flickr – CC BY-NC 2.0).


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