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Liberal congressman plays down Twitter controversy over lewd photo

By the CNN Wire Staff
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Weiner: Done talking about lewd photo
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Weiner says he did not post a lewd photo and has hired a firm to investigate
  • NEW: He reiterates that his account was hacked as a prank
  • On Tuesday he had a heated exchange with reporters
  • A conservative blogger who broke the story wants an investigation

Tune to "The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer" today at 5 p.m. ET for Wolf's interview with Rep. Anthony Weiner.

(CNN) -- A prank or a possible glimpse of scandal?

Liberal Democratic Rep. Anthony Weiner tried Tuesday to deflect attention away from a controversy involving a lewd photo briefly posted on his Twitter account, saying the matter was undeserving of further attention.

Meanwhile, the conservative blogger who broke the story called for a full investigation of what he said was either the hacking of a congressman's account or something Weiner wants to hide.

By Wednesday, Weiner told CNN's Wolf Blitzer that he did not post the picture, and said he had hired a law firm to investigate.

"Photos can be manipulated. Photos can be of one thing and changed to something else. We're going to try to get to the bottom of what happened," he said.

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"This seems like it was a prank to make fun of my name, the name Weiner, it happens a lot," he said.

On Tuesday Weiner told reporters he wasn't interested in talking about the issue any more, saying he already made statements over the Memorial Day weekend after news of the photo of the lower body of a man wearing underwear turned up on his Twitter account Friday night.

In a heated exchange with reporters, he repeatedly dodged direct questions about the photo.

"If I were giving a speech to 45,000 people, and someone in the back threw a pie or yelled out an insult, I would not spend the next two hours of my speech responding to that pie or that insult. I would return to the things that I want to talk about," Weiner said in response to a question about whether he sent the lewd photo to a Seattle woman.

He also refused to say why he hasn't asked law enforcement to investigate if in fact his account was hacked, as he has said it was.

During that exchange, Weiner called CNN Senior Congressional Producer Ted Barrett a "jackass" when Barrett pressed Weiner for a yes-or-no answer on whether the congressman sent the photo.

Turning to CNN Senior Congressional Correspondent Dana Bash, who was questioning Weiner with Barrett, Weiner said, "I am going to have to ask that we follow some rules. You ask questions and I do the answer ... that would be reasonable, you do the questions, I do the answers and that jackass interrupts me."

Despite repeated efforts by reporters, Weiner did not directly answer questions about the photo.

In earlier comments, when asked if the photo was of him, Weiner deflected the question.

"I'm not going to talk about this anymore," he said, adding: "I'm going to get back to the conversation I care about," including economic issues and what he calls a conflict-of-interest situation involving conservative Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas on the health care reform law. The New York Democrat is a leading liberal voice in Congress.

Asked several questions about the Twitter situation Tuesday, Weiner stuck to his message.

"I understand you're doing your job, but I'm going to go back to work now," Weiner said at one point. When asked if he was concerned about being hacked, he responded: "I'm going to return to working on the things I care about. I participated in the story a couple of days now, given comments on it. This is a distraction and I'm not going to let it distract me."

When a reporter noted the distraction might go away if he answered the questions, Weiner answered: "I'm not convinced of that.

"I'm not convinced there's any value of me talking about it," Weiner said.

Asked again if he was the man in the photo, Weiner responded again that he had made previous statements and now it was time for him to get back to work.

On Wednesday, Weiner told CNN that he regretted how he handled the situation on Tuesday.

Previously, Weiner blamed the photo on a hacker who got control of his social-networking accounts and played a prank. Weiner's spokesman, Dave Arnold, said Monday the congressman has retained an attorney to look into the situation.

"We've retained counsel to explore the proper next steps and to advise us on what civil or criminal actions should be taken," Arnold said in a statement. "This was a prank. We are loath to treat it as more, but we are relying on professional advice."

No formal criminal investigation has been launched, which rankles Andrew Breitbart, whose conservative website biggovernment.com first reported the photo on Weiner's Twitter account in connection with a tweet to a Seattle woman.

Breitbart, who has been involved in questionable tactics against Democrats and liberals in the past, told CNN on Tuesday that the case warrants further investigation.

"There's something fundamentally different between a prank and a hack -- a prank is innocuous, a hack is criminal," Breitbart said, later adding he wanted a full investigation by the FBI and Capitol Police.

However, CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin said Tuesday he believed the situation was a harmless prank unworthy of further investigation.

"Twitter is not a very secure environment," Toobin said, noting that information on the site can be unreliable "and doesn't even come from the people it appears to come from."

He added: "There's a famous expression -- don't make a federal case out of it."

The Seattle woman, identified as a 21-year-old college student, subsequently issued a statement to the New York Daily News in which she said she had never met Weiner though she followed him on Twitter and had once jokingly referred to him as her "boyfriend" in a tweet.

She indicated that the post had come from someone other than Weiner, and added that the person who sent it "had harassed me many times."

"I am not sure whether or not this letter will alleviate any future harassment," said the statement by Gennette Nicole Cordova, published Sunday by the Daily News. "I also do not have a clear understanding as to how or why exactly I am involved in this fiasco. I do know that my life has been seriously impacted by speculation and faulty allegations. My reputation has been called into question by those who lack the character to report the facts."

Twitter, which is used by celebrities, journalists, politicians and others to instantly communicate messages -- called tweets -- of up to 140 characters to people who "follow" them on the social networking site, also allows two people to "follow" each other and communicate directly. Weiner also was a follower of Cordova.

The photo at the center of the controversy appeared on Weiner's Twitter account on Friday night in connection with a tweet to Cordova. Breitbart said a conservative blogger named Dan Wolfe, who has been following Weiner, then retweeted it to a number of others. Wolfe denies hacking Weiner's account, according to Breitbart.

After the photo was posted and then taken down, Weiner tweeted about it over the weekend, including one that said his Facebook account had been hacked.

"Is my blender gonna attack me next?" the tweet said.

The photo and others posted on Weiner's account have been taken down. Cordova has removed her Facebook and Twitter accounts. In her letter to the Daily News, she said she recognized the Twitter account of the tweet that sent her the photo.

"Friday evening I logged onto Twitter to find that I had about a dozen new mentions in less than an hour, which is a rare occurrence," Cordova's statement said. "When I checked one of the posts that I had been tagged in, I saw that it was a picture that had supposedly been tweeted to me by Congressman Anthony Weiner. The account that these tweets were sent from was familiar to me; this person had harassed me many times after the congressman followed me on Twitter a month or so ago. Since I had dealt with this person and his cohorts before I assumed that the tweet and the picture were their latest attempts at defaming the congressman and harassing his supporters."

Last year, Breitbart posted online a heavily edited and incomplete video of a speech by U.S. Agriculture Department employee Shirley Sherrod that suggested she refused to offer her full help to a white farmer. Sherrod was forced to resign, but a full version of the speech showed that Sherrod had assisted the farmer, who later came forward and credited Sherrod with helping save his farm.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack later apologized to Sherrod, and President Barack Obama called her.

Sherrod has filed a civil suit accusing Breitbart of defamation, false light and infliction of emotional distress, according to a statement issued by the law firm representing her.

CNN's Dana Bash and Rachel Streitfeld contributed to this story.

 
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