But the sort of media and social media storm he was in the middle of felt new then. “We didn’t know what we were working with at the time, and I was lying to everyone around me,” he said.
And after he left public life in 2013, he slipped from compulsion into crime, and the saga broadened from damage to his own life to the nation’s. In January 2016, he began exchanging explicit messages with a 15-year-old girl. After the texts were reported in September 2016, prosecutors seized his laptop computer. And then, 11 days before the presidential election, the F.B.I. director, James Comey, wrote a letter to Congress saying that new emails discovered on Mr. Weiner’s computer had prompted him to reopen the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails.
Weeks later, as Democrats tried to understand how Donald J. Trump had been elected president, Mr. Weiner came in for some of the blame. He was the butterfly who flapped his, er, wings and led to the election of Mr. Trump. Mr. Weiner said he believes, in retrospect, that there were larger forces at play in that campaign and that if it hadn’t been the emails, Mr. Trump’s supporters would have seized on something else. And indeed, Trump-like figures have been elected all over the world. It wasn’t just Mr. Weiner.
But his own skepticism that he was the fatal butterfly “is complicated by the fact that that’s what Hillary thinks,” he said. (“I wouldn’t call it a net positive,” a spokesman for Mrs. Clinton, Nick Merrill, told me.)
His life hit bottom in 2017, when he was sentenced to 21 months in prison for transferring obscene material to a minor. He served 15 months in a federal prison in Massachusetts, and three more in a Bronx halfway house. His compulsion destroyed his career and his marriage to Huma Abedin, a senior aide to Mrs. Clinton. And it has left him nearly unemployable, and officially labeled a sex offender.
Mr. Weiner has spent most of the last year running a Brooklyn company called IceStone, which makes environmentally sustainable countertops. He put in place a policy of offering job interviews to formerly incarcerated people. He’s now in the process of stepping down as chief executive, he said, to try to turn the company into a “worker-run cooperative.” He and Ms. Abedin, who still works for Mrs. Clinton, are finalizing their divorce, but they live down the hall from each other in the same apartment building. Mr. Weiner is in a 12-step program for sex addiction, and one of its conditions is that he not talk about it. His life, he said, largely revolves around their 9-year-old son.
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Sometimes people tell him he should try to “change the narrative” about himself. But there’s no point. There’s no route back to public life for him. “‘The narrative’ implies you’re telling a story,” he said. “To what end?” The exception, he said, is that his agent has shopped a book about sex addiction, which he said he hoped could help other people in his position.