The North Carolina teen at the center of the infamous Anthony Weiner scandal that helped doom Hillary Clinton’s campaign lied to news outlets about her age, motives and political allegiances, a WhoWhatWhy investigation reveals.
On Friday, former Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY) accepted a plea deal in a Manhattan courtroom to a charge of “transfer of obscene material to a minor.” WhoWhatWhy has learned that much of what we know about this crime — which played a major role in the outcome of the election — is a lie.
The official narrative is that Weiner, husband of Hillary Clinton’s top aide Huma Abedin, had exchanged explicit messages with a 15-year-old girl. The FBI got involved, seized Weiner’s laptop and discovered emails from Clinton on the hard drive. This caused FBI Director James Comey to inform Congress that new evidence had been unearthed in the investigation of Clinton’s mishandling of classified information.
She never recovered from the revelation, which ended up yielding no new information in the case, but, with the scandal fresh in the minds of voters, Donald Trump went on to his astonishing come-from-behind victory.
The North Carolina teenager at the center of the controversy was reported to be heartbroken. A self-described supporter of Clinton, she expressed regret over the role she had played in the election’s outcome.
There is just one problem with this narrative: The girl’s story isn’t true.
A WhoWhatWhy investigation has uncovered numerous substantive falsehoods and mischaracterizations — raising doubts about a case that changed the 2016 election and American history:
• The girl was presented in news accounts — and Weiner’s plea deal — as being 15 at the time, that is, under the age of consent in her state. She was not.
• Weiner’s victim and her family were not, as represented, Clinton fans — they actually were strong Trump enthusiasts. Her story was trusted in part because she was characterized as having no axe to grind with Clinton or the Democrats.
• Weiner’s “sexting” partner was not simply a victim. Contrary to tabloid accounts, she initiated the contact with Weiner. And she went out of her way to seek advice from a GOP-associated figure behind prior efforts to harm Weiner and other Democrats.
To be clear, what Weiner did was morally indefensible. None of the evidence we provide is meant to excuse his behavior. But it is impossible to overstate the significance of the lies his teen sexting partner told in ensuring the story became a national sensation. The big question that remains is why.
Our initial story on the Weiner case showed that various Trump supporters, prominent campaign surrogates and conservative journalists had teamed up to use the story to harm Clinton. However, it left several key questions unanswered.
Since then, WhoWhatWhy has uncovered new information that shatters the commonly accepted narrative, which was first laid out by the pro-Trump, widely read British tabloid Daily Mail on September 21.
A key break came when, utilizing an array of sophisticated forensic techniques, we uncovered the girl’s true identity. We verified that we had the right person with four individuals close to or connected to her — including her former teacher and her own mother. By identifying the girl, we were then able to learn a great deal about her and her family. And that in turn led to the discovery of the lies.
The young woman has since turned 18, but because she was a minor at the time, we have decided not to publicly identify her.
Here are some of the key issues our investigation raises — and the corresponding evidence:
Issue #1: The girl wasn’t really 15
However, our research shows that the girl was in fact not “15 and a sophomore” as the Daily Mail reported, when she initiated contact with Weiner. A court record shows that she was just shy of her 17th birthday at the time she approached him.
In addition, her extensive social media footprint provides further evidence. For example, she posted a picture in 2014 on her 15th birthday after having been given a North Carolina learner’s permit.
The lie that she was 15 years old when Weiner sent her obscene material seems clearly designed to produce the maximum public outrage and put Weiner in greater legal jeopardy — and the media-generated uproar may well have compelled the authorities to become involved and seize the computer with Clinton’s emails.
It should be noted that prosecutors, judges and juries view interactions with minors differently, based on the precise age of the minor: 15 is worse than 16, which is worse than 17, the real age of the girl for much of the period during which she interacted with Weiner, and her age when she approached the media.
Under North Carolina law, at 16, she was in fact above the age of consent. Ultimately, this would not matter because Weiner pled guilty to being under the impression that she was only 15, and she was still below the federal age of consent — the standard applicable in the case. Regardless of what he stipulated as part of his plea agreement, among the trove of incriminating messages it published, the Daily Mail provided no evidence that the girl actually told Weiner she was 15, only that she was in high school.
To those primarily focused on Weiner’s illicit behavior with a teenager, these legal definitions may be beside the point. But any lies at all in a matter so crucial — especially ones that have gone unchecked for so long — must be treated as indicative of a larger, politically motivated deception.
Plus, if this “lie,” misrepresentation of fact, or material inaccuracy found its way into a government pleading in what became the United States v. Weiner case, it would have legal consequences. But we may never know, because the way Anthony Weiner’s plea deal is structured inhibits further inquiry by dispensing with the matter while revealing no details about the underlying history.
Issue #2: The victim lied about political loyalties
She described herself as a “big fan” of the Clintons. She further stated that she so disliked Trump that if he were elected, she would move to Germany. Thus, she seemed to have no political agenda at all in “outing” Weiner.
However, the girl actually celebrated Trump’s victory on social media. (It should be noted that her various accounts, such as Twitter and Instagram, were set to private after news of Weiner’s plea deal broke. WhoWhatWhy has preserved screenshots of the tweets and Instagram posts in question.)
Her father is a registered Republican. She and her mother tweeted derisively about the Black Lives Matter movement. Her late grandmother was a Tea Party activist. These are not Hillary Clinton fans.
The lie about the family’s political affiliations seems to be a clearcut case of deliberate misdirection — designed to prevent the public from recognizing what otherwise would have been seen as a particularly vicious and effective Republican dirty trick.
Significantly, the father turns out to have connections to high-level local Republicans. Given the ultimate impact he and his daughter’s story would have on the nation’s political landscape, the importance of these links should not be disregarded.
The father is friends with a longtime high-ranking local Republican official. The two played on the same sports team for an elite local fundraising event. That official was photographed arm-in-arm with Eric Trump at local party headquarters, and when he posted a photo of the two on Facebook, the father’s ex-wife gave it a “like.” (Readers of our last piece on this subject may recall that on October 24, Eric’s wife, Lara, a North Carolina native, appeared on Fox & Friends to predict an “October surprise” that would benefit the campaign.)
The father, reached by phone, angrily declined to comment. The mother refused to put us in touch with the daughter, who is now an adult.
Issue #3: How the story reached the media
When the family reached out to Buzzfeed in what now seems like an attempt to keep the story in the news, the father came across as indignant toward the FBI, in effect blaming the Bureau for “media scrutiny” directed at his daughter.
But in fact it appears that it was he, the father, who, in concert with others, promoted the story of his supposedly troubled daughter to the Daily Mail. According to the mother, this all took place without her knowledge. It’s not yet clear whether the motive was primarily money, a plot to smear Clinton, or both.
While according to her angry open letter to Comey published by BuzzFeed, the girl was in therapy after the scandal broke, the mother told WhoWhatWhy that her daughter never saw a therapist.
Incidentally, another falsehood that emanated directly from the original Daily Mailarticle — that her father is an attorney — found its way into a May 9, 2017, New Yorkerpiece. The source for this inaccuracy was Sydney Leathers, a woman who had similarly wooed Weiner toward self destructive online behavior, back in 2013. Leathers, who last year helped arrange for press coverage of the younger girl’s allegations, claimed that the girl’s father helped negotiate a fee from the Daily Mail, which reputedly occasionally pays for interviews. The notion that the father was an attorney seemed to give the account greater legitimacy.
Beyond the fact that the father is not a lawyer, it may be relevant that he has been arrested numerous times for crimes, including assault by strangulation — according to court records.
So what do these lies mean?
Seeing that Weiner is both a repeat offender — his sexting addiction cost him his job in Congress as well as a shot at becoming mayor of New York — and associated with one of the most important people in Clinton’s inner circle, it is conceivable that this was a set-up from the beginning, with the objective of embarrassing the Clinton campaign.
There is little downside to getting an attractive teenager to reach out to Weiner and wait for him to take the bait. If that is the case, then those involved were successful beyond their wildest imaginations.
It was Leathers, and another curious figure, Charles C. “Chuck” Johnson, an infamous alt-right cyber provocateur, who teamed up to put the girl in contact with the Daily Mail. (Johnson would later claim in an interview with WhoWhatWhy that he was also responsible for a group of Bill Clinton sexual accusers appearing at the October 9 debate — which was intended to rattle Hillary Clinton and generated enthusiastic coverage by pro-Trump media.)
Johnson is wired into a network of high-ranking Trump confidantes, including Silicon Valley billionaire Peter Thiel and Blackwater Mercenary Group founder Erik Prince, and Steve Bannon. He is especially close to Prince, who has allies across law enforcement including the FBI, telling WhoWhatWhy that the two are “friends” who speak “once a week.”
We asked Johnson about the possibility that unnamed others were involved in setting Weiner up, or “catfishing” him, to harm Clinton. Johnson replied, perhaps self-servingly, that he himself had some doubts about the story as reported by the media, but had relied on Daily Mail reporter Alana Goodman to vet the information:
“It did seem kind of strange that a 15-year old would have this level of, yeah, wherewithal, so I will say I somewhat suspected that there was something else going on at the time. But it was sort of like in the fog of war, you know, in the fog of the election, and so when I flipped it to Alana, you know, Alana was convinced that the girl was legit, everything was legit. I told her ‘I think you should look a little harder at this because it’s kind of a big deal. Weiner had been catfished before’.”
(For more on Johnson’s and Leathers’ role in the Weiner story, see our initial article.)
At the very least, in light of the impact that the teen’s role in the election had, a great deal is riding on her explanation of what occurred, and why. WhoWhatWhy has attempted repeatedly to reach out to her but was rebuffed and even threatened by her family; she did not reply to a message left on a voicemail we believe to be hers. We will keep trying. Although the evidence WhoWhatWhy has compiled could actually mitigate Weiner’s case, he has not responded to requests for comment either.
Clearly, those privy to the Weiner drama recognized the potentially huge impact it could have — well beyond the fate of Weiner himself. Speaking from her limited knowledge of the matter, and without breaking teacher-student confidences, the girl’s teacher recalled how when the story broke, she confided to a colleague that she hoped her student had not just affected the presidential election.