Rep. Anthony D. Weiner, a rising star in Democratic politics, admitted Monday to having inappropriate online exchanges with at least six women and repeatedly lying about his role in sending a sexually suggestive photograph to a young woman over Twitter last month.
After a week of sometimes indignant public denials and insistence that he was the victim of an Internet hacker, a weeping and stammering Weiner, 46, acknowledged at a news conference that he had sent the photo of himself in his underwear to the woman in Seattle.
The six-term congressman insisted he had broken no laws and vowed to remain in office, calling the matter an "aberration from which I've learned."
Weiner went on to describe a side of his life that he had kept secret from his closest confidants and family members, in which he befriended young female admirers over the Internet and engaged in intimate sexual banter with them.
"Over the past few years, I have engaged in several inappropriate conversations conducted over Twitter, Facebook, e-mail and occasionally on the phone with women I had met online," he said.
Weiner said he had never met in person the women with whom he corresponded and added: "I don't know what I was thinking. This was a destructive thing to do. I'm apologetic for doing it."
Weiner's political standing appeared in grave danger after his news conference. House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi called for an ethics investigation into Weiner's conduct. House ethics rules state that members should conduct themselves "at all times in a manner that shall reflect creditably on the House."
Weiner's public confession was prompted Monday when Andrew Breitbart, a conservative blogger and provocative critic of the left, published photographs of Weiner that the congressman had sent to a woman online.
As Breitbart began to unveil the photos one by one, Weiner's staff seemed paralyzed, failing to answer questions or challenge the authenticity of the photographs.
One of the pictures showed Weiner, his wedding ring visible, holding up a sign identifying himself to the woman, who had expressed skepticism that she was exchanging messages with the congressman.
Weiner had gained renown for his devoted and deft use of social media like Twitter and Facebook, cultivating thousands of followers with a near-constant stream of political riffs and punchy one-liners. In the end, however, it was his reckless approach to those online tools that led to his undoing.
At the news conference, he said that the online relationships with the women had begun three years ago and that several of them began after he was married in July to Huma Abedin, a longtime aide to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, in a grand service officiated by former President Bill Clinton.
While he repeatedly emphasized his failings, Weiner stressed that he had not had physical contact with any of the six women and said he believed they were all adults.
"At least to the extent of my knowledge," he said, when pressed about their ages and the tendency toward exaggeration on the Web. At another point, Weiner declared: "I've never had sex outside of my marriage."
He repeatedly apologized to his wife, who, unlike other spouses of misbehaving male politicians, did not appear at his side: "I love my wife very much, and we have no intention of splitting up over this. We have been through a great deal together, and we will — we will weather this. I love her very much, and she loves me."
The congressman said his wife had known about some of his online connections with the women. But it was not until Monday that he told her he had sent the photo to the woman in Seattle.
The episode, with its traces of digital deception, echoed the swift political fall of Weiner's fellow House member, Christopher Lee, a New York Republican, who e-mailed a shirtless photo of himself to a woman he met online. Lee resigned.
David Birdsell, dean of Baruch College's School of Public Affairs in New York City, said it would be difficult for Weiner to argue that his conduct was any less damning. "By the Chris Lee standard, these are offenses that merit resignation," he said.
Weiner's ordeal began two Fridays ago, on May 27, at 11:35 p.m.: A Twitter post, containing the photo of the gray boxers, was sent from Weiner's account to that of a college student in Washington state, assuming it would remain private.
He called it "part of a joke" to the woman.
But he soon panicked, went online and tried to delete the photo. It was too late: The image had not been private, after all. It was immediately copied and redistributed across the Internet.
On Thursday, Weiner declared that he would no longer discuss the matter.
Throughout this period, Weiner misled even those closest to him, telling a handful of longtime advisers what he had told the public — that his Twitter account had been hacked into and that he did not send the explicit photo.
By Monday morning, those close to him said, he simply staggered under the weight of the media attention, the impending revelations from Breitbart and his own deceit.