Federal prosecutors are weighing bringing child-pornography charges against former Rep. Anthony Weiner over sexually explicit exchanges he allegedly had with a 15-year-old girl, according to people familiar with the matter.
Mr. Weiner, a New York Democrat, is being investigated by the U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which seized his electronic devices, including a laptop and a cellphone, as part of the probe.
Officials initiated the investigation last fall, after the Daily Mail in the U.K. reported that Mr. Weiner had exchanged sexually explicit messages and photos with the girl.
In recent weeks, according to some of the people familiar with the matter, attorneys for Mr. Weiner have had discussions with federal prosecutors in Manhattan in hopes of dissuading them from bringing charges, or at least from bringing the most serious one: production of child pornography, which carries a 15-year mandatory minimum prison sentence upon conviction.
These types of discussions can indicate both sides are trying to reach an agreement in which the defendant pleads guilty in exchange for a less-severe charge.
Mr. Weiner could face the production charge, some of the people familiar with the case say, because he allegedly solicited explicit images from the teenager.
Prosecutors also are weighing other charges, including receipt of child pornography, for which conviction carries a five-year mandatory minimum, and possession of child pornography, which has no mandatory minimum. Legal experts say receipt and possession encompass virtually the same misconduct, but the two charges are a way to give prosecutors more discretion in their charging decisions.
Prosecutors could decide not to bring any charges.
It isn’t known what images prosecutors have found in the course of the investigation. Federal child pornography laws are broadly written, and lawyers who have defended people charged with child pornography say certain types of images could receive lighter treatment under the law, such as photos of nude minors who aren’t engaging in sexually explicit activity.
In determining child-pornography charges, prosecutors often take into account a range of contextual evidence, including whether a person specifically sought out a minor, whether the incident fits a pattern of similar behavior with minors and whether the person knew the individual was a minor.
Mr. Weiner has said he might have been the victim of a hoax. The Daily Mail reported in September that Mr. Weiner had provided the newspaper copies of two emails the teenager sent him that he said “raised questions about her claims.”
Mr. Weiner resigned from Congress in 2011, after the first reports that he had lewd exchanges with women online. He attempted a political resurrection with a New York City mayoral bid in 2013, but his career in politics was ultimately extinguished after a fresh round of sexually explicit messages he had exchanged with another woman emerged in the midst of his campaign.
The high-profile criminal probe into Mr. Weiner upended the final days of the 2016 presidential race. Less than two weeks before election day, FBI Director James Comey disclosed that FBI agents had discovered a laptop with emails that might be related to the probe of a private email server used by Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton while she was secretary of state. The emails turned out to have been on a laptop used by Mr. Weiner and his now-estranged wife, Huma Abedin, a top aide to Mrs. Clinton.
Mr. Comey ultimately announced, two days before the election, that the search of the laptop had turned up nothing to change investigators’ opinions that Mrs. Clinton shouldn’t be charged in the email investigation.