As if the alleged sexual misdeeds of her own other half weren’t scandal enough, Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign now faces an eleventh-hour crisis thanks to the estranged husband of her closest aide.
Disgraced former New York congressman Anthony Weiner split from his wife, Clinton confidante Huma Abedin, in April. Now, however, he stands accused of sexting an underage girl – and the investigation has opened a new chapter in the long-running Clinton email saga.
FBI director James Comey revealed on Friday that the agency was reviewing a fresh batch of Clinton emails that “appear to be pertinent” to its probe of the former Secretary of State’s use of a private email server.
Those emails, Comey wrote, were uncovered “in connection with an unrelated case”. According to the New York Times, the case in question is the sexting case, which could land Weiner in the clink for up to 30 years if he is found guilty of sexual exploitation of children.
Weiner’s unsavoury online habits first became public knowledge in 2011, after he mistakenly tweeted a photograph of his bulging underwear, which he had intended to send to a 21-year-old college student. At the time, Abedin was five months pregnant.
He resigned from Congress, but decided to run for the New York mayoralty in 2013, only for his campaign to be derailed by revelations that he had continued to send lewd messages to strangers – under the pseudonym “Carlos Danger” – after the original controversy.
The couple separated this spring after the New York Post published a selfie sent by Weiner to another sexting partner, which displayed his semi-erect penis (albeit, once again, obscured by cloth) as he lay in bed beside their sleeping five-year-old son.
The scandal took on an even darker hue last month, when the Daily Mail published an interview with a 15-year-old girl who claimed Weiner, now 52, had sent her explicit messages for months, including shirtless selfies, “rape fantasies” and requests that she undress for him on Skype.
The FBI reportedly seized a laptop belonging to Weiner and Abedin in relation to the allegations, which appears to be how they came across the new collection of Clinton-related emails. Abedin, who first worked for Clinton as an intern in 1996, is now the vice chair of her presidential campaign.
Clinton and Abedin are famously inseparable. A February 2016 Vanity Fair profile of Abedin, who is 40, suggested that “over the years, Abedin and Hillary have spent more time together than either has with her husband.”
Politico recently described Abedin as “Clinton’s external hard drive,” explaining: “When it comes to Clinton’s complicated web of relationships with donors, elected officials, union members and longtime supporters, Abedin is where all of that information is stored.”
She has even been talked about as a prospective chief of staff in a Clinton White House. Bill Clinton presided at her wedding to Weiner in 2010, with Hillary reportedly saying in a wedding toast: “I have one daughter. But if I had a second daughter, it would [be] Huma.”
Born in Michigan in 1976, Abedin spent her childhood in Saudi Arabia, where her Pakistani mother and Indian father were academics. She returned to the US at 18 to study at George Washington University in Washington DC and began her White House internship a year later.
The relationship between Abedin and the former First Lady is a subject of fascination and suspicion for Republicans and the right-wing Internet. In 2012, GOP Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann suggested she might be a “sleeper” for the Muslim Brotherhood.
The laughable accusation was based in large part on the fact that Abedin’s late father had founded the Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs, an academic periodical about the Muslim diaspora, which her mother later edited and where Abedin worked part-time for several years.
Of all people, it was Republican Senator John McCain who rebutted Bachmann’s claims on the Senate floor, calling them “unwarranted and unfounded”, and describing Abedin as “an intelligent, upstanding, hard-working, and loyal servant of our country and our government.”
Even before news broke of the new Clinton email probe, GOP nominee Donald Trump and his allies were including Abedin and Weiner in their conspiracy theories. In August, Roger Stone, a sometime Trump adviser, referred to Abedin as a “Saudi asset”.
Trump, meanwhile, has previously tried to link Clinton to Weiner’s scandals, claiming in August that Clinton had been “careless and negligent in allowing Weiner to have such close proximity to highly classified information… It's just another example of Hillary Clinton's bad judgment."
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