From the legally scandalous to the sexually sordid, top Hillary Clinton aide Huma Abedin remains in the headlines for all the wrong reasons, causing distraction after distraction for her boss at a crucial time in the presidential race.
Ms. Abedin announced Monday that she is separating from her husband, Anthony Weiner, after the former congressman and New York City mayoral candidate was caught up in yet another sexting scandal.
The latest instance involved Mr. Weiner, who married Ms. Abedin in 2010 at a ceremony officiated by former President Bill Clinton, sending lewd photos to a woman he said he met online. At least one of the explicit pictures was taken while the couple’s toddler son was lying in bed beside Mr. Weiner.
But her husband’s sexual exploits are only one example of the negative publicity swirling around Ms. Abedin. Last week, reports surfaced that she worked for a decade at a Muslim journal that, among other things, opposed women’s rights and seemed to pin part of the blame for the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States.
Perhaps most damaging, Ms. Abedin — a fixture at Mrs. Clinton’s side dating back nearly 20 years — also has been directly implicated in the ongoing scandal surrounding the former secretary of state’s private emails and pay-to-play accusations involving the Clinton Foundation. New emails released last week showed Ms. Abedin working to facilitate meetings between foundation donors and Mrs. Clinton, further blurring the lines between Mrs. Clinton’s work at the foundation and her role as the nation’s chief diplomat.
Analysts say voters are unlikely to abandon Mrs. Clinton because of Ms. Abedin’s actions — or those of her disgraced husband. But the rash of negative coverage does present an opening for Mrs. Clinton’s presidential rival, Republican Donald Trump.
“The only way the scandal blows up is if Donald Trump continues to press the issue, which he might do. Bringing up Abedin is a way for Trump to show her involvement in the Clinton Foundation, the attack de jure for the Trump campaign,” said Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston who studies presidential politics. “This line of attack may be a bit obscure for most voters but fires up the Republican base, which Trump needs.”
Indeed, Mr. Trump wasted little time in pouncing on the scandal. Minutes after news broke that Ms. Abedin would separate from Mr. Weiner, the billionaire said the couple’s close ties to Mrs. Clinton may have endangered national security.
“I only worry for the country in that Hillary Clinton was careless and negligent in allowing Weiner to have such close proximity to highly classified information,” Mr. Trump said. “Who knows what he learned and who he told? It’s just another example of Hillary Clinton’s bad judgment. It is possible that our country and its security have been greatly compromised by this.”
In her own statement Monday, Ms. Abedin asked the public for privacy.
“After long and painful consideration and work on my marriage, I have made the decision to separate from my husband,” she said. “Anthony and I remain devoted to doing what is best for our son, who is the light of our life. During this difficult time, I ask for respect for our privacy.”
The Clinton campaign did not respond to a request for comment.
Mr. Weiner resigned from Congress in June 2011 in the wake of a separate sexting scandal that was triggered when he accidentally posted a lewd image of himself online.
He first said his social media account was hacked and later admitted that he did indeed send the photo, but insisted he was not resigning. He ultimately announced his resignation on June 16, 2011, apologizing “for the personal mistakes I have made and for the embarrassment I have caused.”
Mr. Weiner announced in May 2013 that he was running to become mayor of New York, only to have more suggestive chats surface soon afterward.
In July 2013, Ms. Abedin joined Mr. Weiner at a press conference and said: “I love him, I have forgiven him, I believe in him, and as I have said from the beginning, we are moving forward.”
Ms. Abedin’s initial decision to stay with her husband was reminiscent of Mrs. Clinton’s own choice after her husband’s repeated infidelity.
“For a long time now, parallels have been drawn between the Clinton marriage and Huma Abedin and Anthony Weiner’s marriage, and the fact that Huma Abedin worked for Clinton leads people to speculate about the advice she receives about her marriage. There’s that human interest component,” said Jennifer Lawless, director of the Women and Politics Institute at American University in Washington.
Moving forward, analysts say, the Weiner-Abedin separation is beneficial for the Clinton campaign.
“Huma Abedin is very smart to get rid of him, and it’s a very good thing for the Hillary Clinton campaign because when the problem isn’t around anymore, there is no problem,” said longtime New York political consultant Hank Sheinkopf. “This involves a child, which makes it much more significant. Getting him out of the picture was critical. … Making sure he was not connected to Secretary Clinton’s closest adviser was the right thing to do.”