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Weiner's pregnant wife weathers scandal

10 June 2011, 17:02

New York - A continent away from her congressman-husband as he tries to weather the fallout from an internet-sex scandal, Huma Abedin spent Thursday attending to a more familiar role: That of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's most trusted and indispensible aide.

Clinton was in Abu Dhabi for a meeting on Libya, the first day of a weeklong tour of the Middle East and Africa. Abedin was at Clinton's side, appearing composed and unrattled as photographers snapped her picture.

The spotlight on Abedin has intensified amid the disclosure by friends that she and Representative Anthony Weiner are expecting their first child.

It's the latest twist in a series of eye-popping revelations surrounding the New York Democrat since he acknowledged sending sexually explicit texts and photos to several women online and lying about it for days after the initial revelations.

He told the New York Post on Thursday he had no plans to resign from Congress and was trying to get back to work on behalf of his district, which covers part of Brooklyn and Queens.

Several Democrats have urged Weiner to step down.

Strong, glamorous

Friends describe Abedin as more saddened than angry over her husband's behaviour, and say she plans to try to help him, even though she believes he has a lot of work to do to redeem himself.

"She is a very strong woman," friend and State Department colleague Philippe Reines said.

The glamorous Abedin is a long-serving member of Clinton's intensely loyal team of advisers.

Abedin was an intern for Clinton in 1996, helping the then-first lady weather the public spectacle over her own scandal-scarred husband, who had an affair with White House intern Monica Lewinksy and was impeached for lying about it. But the roles have shifted, and it's now Clinton's turn to offer solace to Abedin.

Abedin was with Weiner in New York following his news conference on Monday in which he acknowledged sending inappropriate texts and photos to several women over about three years and publicly apologised to her for the pain he had caused.

"I love my wife very much, and we have no intention of splitting up over this," Weiner said through tears.

Pivotal role

Abedin did not appear at Weiner's side as he faced the media, but friends said her absence didn't mean she wasn't supporting him during the crisis. They said she went ahead on Wednesday and accompanied Clinton overseas because she has not let the controversy get in the way of her professional duties.

"She is on the trip because it's her job, and she hasn't missed a beat throughout," Reines said.

Abedin's State Department title, deputy chief of staff for operations, only hints at her pivotal role in Clinton's professional life: She is part policy adviser, part strategist and a full-time multitasker who fields Clinton's phone calls, organises her briefing books, snaps photos of Clinton posing with admirers and runs interference with those who try to curry favour or monopolise Clinton's time.

Abedin has played much the same role throughout Clinton's many career iterations, following the former first lady from the White House to the Senate, then joining Clinton on the presidential campaign trail in 2008 and later at the State Department.

Clinton has returned the loyalty, telling friends she considers Abedin almost a second daughter. Those who know the Clintons say that other than their daughter, Chelsea, and Hillary Clinton's mother, Dorothy Rodham, there is no one closer to the couple than Abedin.

When Vogue Magazine featured Abedin in a photo spread in 2007, Clinton offered effusive praise.

Unlikely match

"Huma Abedin has the energy of a woman in her 20s, the confidence of a woman in her 30s, the experience of a woman in her 40s and the grace of a woman in her 50s," Clinton told Vogue. "She is timeless. Her combination of poise, kindness and intelligence are matchless."

Abedin and Weiner got to know one another during Clinton's presidential campaign, clocking long hours travelling together across Iowa and other voting states. In an interview with The Associated Press in May 2008, as the primary season wound down and Obama was on track to win the nomination, Weiner said he would continue to be a Clinton campaign surrogate "largely because I'm dating Huma".

The brash, media-hungry Weiner and the refined, discreet Abedin seemed an unlikely match at first. They are also an interfaith couple: Weiner is Jewish and a strong supporter of Israel in Congress, while Abedin - who was born in Michigan to parents of Pakistani and Indian descent, but grew up in Saudi Arabia and speaks fluent Arabic - is a practicing Muslim. But friends say they are intensely affectionate with one another and relish each other's company.

The couple became engaged in 2009, shortly after he announced he would not run for New York City mayor that year in part because he wanted to "build a family". They were married by Bill Clinton in a lavish garden wedding at the Oheka Castle on Long Island last July, Abedin wearing an elaborate gown designed by Oscar de la Renta, a personal friend.

Weiner called the former president on Wednesday to apologize for his online indiscretions, a person with knowledge of the call said.

- AP

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