Huma Abedin boarded the Clinton campaign plane in Westchester County, N.Y., on Monday.CreditDoug Mills/The New York Times
In the summer of 2013, Hillary Clinton had just left the State Department and returned to New York. She planned a quiet year, basking in sky-high approval ratings and enjoying a respite from the media spotlight as she laid the groundwork for a second presidential run.
Then Carlos Danger happened.
Anthony D. Weiner, the husband of Mrs. Clinton’s closest aide, Huma Abedin, was running for mayor of New York when news broke that he had continued to exchange lewd messages with women online after the practice cost him his congressional seat. This time, he used the embarrassing Spanish-inspired moniker.
The tawdry story line and Ms. Abedin’s closeness to Mrs. Clinton made the events explode far beyond New York, dragging Mrs. Clinton’s name into messy headlines about penis pictures, Mr. Weiner’s descriptions of his sexual appetites and his online paramour named Sydney Leathers.
Now, with Mrs. Clinton seemingly on the cusp of winning the White House, Mr. Weiner, who once described himself as “a perpetually horny middle-aged man,” has pulled her into another drama. Federal investigators looking into his sexual messaging with an underage girl stumbled upon thousands of emails potentially pertinent to the F.B.I. inquiry into Mrs. Clinton’s private email server.
The jolting development highlighted not only the intersecting lives of Mrs. Clinton, Ms. Abedin and Mr. Weiner, but also the pattern that has characterized the Clintons’ relationships with the sometimes oddly behaving inhabitants of their insular world: Even amid accusations of sexual or financial impropriety, the Clintons’ first instinct is to hunker down and protect those in their orbit, sometimes leading to more ugly eruptions later and, eventually, to messy public breakups.
On Friday, several of Mrs. Clinton’s friends and allies suggested she distance herself from Ms. Abedin, a painful prospect given that Mrs. Clinton has described Ms. Abedin as a surrogate daughter and has relied on her more than anyone else during her nearly two-year pursuit of the White House.
The two women’s closeness has both intimidated those in the Clinton circle of status-conscious advisers and caused envy. Even as Mrs. Clinton learned on Friday that the F.B.I.’s interest in her email server, which she thought had ended in July, had reignited, Ms. Abedin was by her side as she prepared to make a statement to the news media in Des Moines.
Pressed by a reporter there about the emails’ having been discovered during the investigation into Mr. Weiner’s sexting, Mrs. Clinton dismissed the reports as “rumors.”
Mrs. Clinton has always been circumspect about Mr. Weiner and her feelings toward him. She has steadfastly supported Ms. Abedin, 40, as the younger woman stood by her husband, despite the public ridicule and career damage that resulted from his behavior. The Clintons have never publicly criticized Mr. Weiner.
It was only two months ago that Ms. Abedin announced that she was separating from her husband, after she learned that The New York Post planned to publish a story reporting that Mr. Weiner had sent a picture of his crotch to a woman online as he lay next to the couple’s 4-year-old son in bed. Mrs. Clinton was vacationing in the Hamptons at the time and stayed away from the story.
Privately, aides to Mrs. Clinton suggested on Friday that Ms. Abedin would remain alongside Mrs. Clinton for the final, breakneck stretch of the campaign. But some senior Democrats are now wondering whether, if Mrs. Clinton is elected, she will be able to bring Ms. Abedin along with her for what was once widely expected to be a senior role in the White House.
Mrs. Clinton’s loyalty to Ms. Abedin (and vice versa) stems from the decades they have spent working closely together, beginning when Ms. Abedin was a 19-year-old intern to the first lady in the 1990s.
At the State Department, Ms. Abedin served as deputy chief of staff to Mrs. Clinton. Emails released by the State Department captured the closeness of their relationship. A jet-lagged Mrs. Clinton once emailed Ms. Abedin at 12:21 a.m. to take her up on an offer to come over to Mrs. Clinton’s house for a chat. “Just knock on the door to the bedroom if it’s closed,” she wrote.
Ms. Abedin’s loyalty and strong identification with both Clintons was conspicuous at the State Department. At a staff meeting in early 2009, she was going through a list of requests from “the president.” When others in the room looked at her in puzzlement, Ms. Abedin clarified: “Not President Obama. Our president: Bill Clinton.”