By Brendan Pierson
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Former U.S. Congressman Anthony Weiner wept on Friday as he pleaded guilty in federal court to sending sexually explicit messages to a teenage girl, ending an investigation into a "sexting" scandal that played a role in last year's U.S. presidential election.
Wearing a navy-colored suit, maroon tie and his wedding band, a tearful Weiner, 52, described his conduct before U.S. District Judge Loretta Preska in New York City.
"I have a sickness, but I do not have an excuse," Weiner said, apologizing to the 15-year-old girl to whom he sent sexually explicit images and messages last year.
The charge of transferring obscene material to a minor carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison, but Weiner is likely to get less. As part of his plea agreement, federal prosecutors said they would consider a term between 21 months and 27 months "fair and appropriate."
U.S. District Judge Denise Cote will determine Weiner's punishment at his sentencing on Sept. 8.
The former Democratic congressman's promising political career imploded after a series of scandals involving inappropriate sexual exchanges with women online.
The probe into his exchanges with the teenage girl, however, also helped upend the final days of the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign.
Federal agents who had seized Weiner's laptop discovered a batch of emails from his wife, Huma Abedin, a senior aide to Hillary Clinton, the Democratic nominee for president in 2016.
As a result, James Comey, then the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, announced in late October that the agency was reviewing the messages to determine whether to reopen its investigation into Clinton's handling of official correspondence.
Clinton, who was leading in national polls at the time, has blamed her loss to Republican Donald Trump in part on Comey's announcement, even though he said two days before the election in November that the review had uncovered no new evidence.
The controversy over Clinton's use of a private email server while she was U.S. secretary of state dogged her throughout the campaign. Trump and other Republicans accused Clinton of endangering national security by exposing classified information to potential hacking.
In testimony to Congress two weeks ago, Comey said he felt "mildly nauseous" at the suggestion his actions may have swayed the election, but added that he had no regrets.
Trump fired Comey days later amid the FBI's probe into whether Trump's campaign colluded with Russia to defeat Clinton, an allegation the president has vehemently denied.
The investigation into Weiner came to light after the Daily Mail, a British newspaper, published an interview with the North Carolina teen last year.
Weiner, who served parts of New York City for 12 years in the U.S. House of Representatives, resigned in 2011 after an explicit photograph was posted on his Twitter account. He initially claimed his account had been hacked but eventually acknowledged he had sent the image as well as inappropriate messages to several women.
Two years later, he announced a run for New York City mayor but dropped out of the race when more explicit messages became public.
Abedin announced her separation from Weiner last summer after a new round of explicit messages emerged that included an image of Weiner's crotch as he lay in bed with their young son.
On Friday, Weiner described his repeated transgressions as compulsive behavior and said that since last year he has been receiving "intensive" mental health treatment.
"These destructive impulses brought great devastation to family and friends, and destroyed my life's dream of public service," Weiner told Preska. "And yet I remained in denial, even as the world around me fell apart."
A lawyer for Abedin declined to comment on the plea.
(Aditional reporting and writing by Joseph Ax; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Jeffrey Benkoe)