WASHINGTON (AP) - House officials say the House Ethics Committee staff has initiated a preliminary inquiry into Rep. Anthony Weiner's sexually charged online relationships with several women.
House officials told The Associated Press on Monday that the inquiry is not yet extensive, and that committee leaders have not indicated whether they will order a more intensive staff investigation. The officials requested anonymity because the committee has yet to make a formal statement.
The New York Democrat could face an ethics investigation that could take many months, even longer if he mounts a full defense. The ethics committee determines whether a House member violated standards of conduct.
Weiner started this week on a temporary leave of absence, in treatment for an undisclosed disorder at an undisclosed location. He spent most of last week embroiled in a sexting scandal.
Weiner has acknowledged exchanging messages and photos that ranged from sexually suggestive to explicit, with several women online.
The latest to surface appeared on the gossip website TMZ.
The photos posted Sunday were purportedly taken in the House members' gym and show a shirtless Weiner with a towel around his waist and his hand on his crotch. TMZ said the photos were sent online to at least one woman.
Meanwhile, the No. 2 House Democrat spoke of Weiner's "bizarre and unacceptable behavior" in sending the inappropriate pictures. Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland said it would be "extraordinarily difficult" for Weiner to be effective in Congress.
And the Republican Party chairman criticized Democratic leaders for not taking a more forceful stand earlier on the affair.
In New York, foes and supporters of Weiner confronted each other.
"He's not fit to be our congressman," said Jim Scott, 61, one of about two dozen constituents who rallied in front of Weiner's office in the Kew Gardens section of Queens. "People are sick of him, especially his attitude."
Half a dozen Weiner supporters gathered a few yards away. College student Olivia Lurrie, 18, said Weiner was a good leader who made a mistake.
Hoyer: “Don’t know if we have time” to wait for ethics investigation
Weiner announced Saturday that he was entering professional treatment at an undisclosed location and wanted a leave of absence from Congress. A statement from an aide did not say where he would receive treatment or what type was involved.
That announcement came right after House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California and Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the national party head, said Weiner must go.
Weiner said at a news conference last Monday that he had lied, previously saying that he had not sent any photos. Pelosi immediately called for an ethics committee investigation. But it was not until the weekend that leaders said he should step down.
Hoyer said the ethics committee process to decide whether Weiner had committed an expellable offense would take time and "I really don't know if we have that time." He said he didn't see how Weiner could stay in office.
Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said Weiner should resign. "We've got important work to do and this is a ridiculous distraction," he said in an appearance with Hoyer on "Face the Nation" on CBS.
On NBC's "Meet the Press," Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus criticized Pelosi and other Democrats for not acting sooner.
"It seemed to me that for the first 10 days in this circus ... the only job that Nancy Pelosi was interested in saving was Anthony Weiner's," he said.
That drew a sharp retort from Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., who accused Republicans of a double standard.
She said that Republican leaders didn't call for the resignation of Sen. David Vitter, R-La., when he got caught up in a prostitution scandal, and that Priebus had not publicly sought the resignation of former Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., who stepped down this year over an affair with a staffer's wife.
Wasserman Schultz said party officials initially gave Weiner "some breathing room" to reach the conclusion that he needed to step down on his own, but decided to toughen their stance Saturday after it became apparent he would not do so.