THE man in the eye of a growing "sexting scandal" in New York, Anthony Weiner, last night sought a leave of absence to "seek treatment".
The Democratic representative's move was seen as a belated effort to stave off a chorus of calls for his head from leading Democrats, after it emerged that he had been sending photos of himself to women he met online.
He has confessed to sending photographs of his private parts to girls half his age and stands accused of being an internet predator.
His argument for remaining in office is that most of his constituents as well as his wife Huma Abedin, who is three months pregnant and a long-time aide to Hillary Clinton, want him to stay in Congress.
But last night his publicist, Risa Heller, said that the New York Democrat "will request a short leave of absence" from the House "so that he can get evaluated and map out a course of treatment to make himself well".
Mr Weiner "departed this morning to seek professional treatment to focus on becoming a better husband and healthier person", Ms Heller said yesterday.
The statement came as Democrats including House minority leader Nancy Pelosi called for his resignation, adding to the escalating pressure from fellow Democrats for him to step aside.
Ms Pelosi had called for an ethics investigation the day Mr Weiner (46) apologised for sending the photos and messages.
The 'New York Times' reported earlier yesterday that Mr Weiner acknowledged, through Ms Heller, exchanging online messages with a 17-year-old Delaware girl. Mr Weiner maintains that "his communications with this person were neither explicit nor indecent", Mr Heller said in an email.
The House is scheduled to return to Washington tomorrow from a one-week recess and Mr Weiner was certain to have faced continued questioning by Washington reporters, who he previously told he had been the victim of computer hacker's prank.
Mr Weiner admitted on June 6 in New York that he engaged in "inappropriate conversations" with six women over the last three years, including by email, on Facebook and Twitter, and on the telephone with one of the women.
He was quoted by the 'New York Post' on June 9 as saying he had no plans to give up his House seat.
Ms Pelosi was joined in asking for Mr Weiner's resignation yesterday by the head of the Democratic National Committee, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, New York Representative Steve Israel, who heads the House Democratic campaign effort, and Maryland Representative Chris Van Hollen, ranking member of the House Budget Committee.
Ms Pelosi issued her call for Mr Weiner's resignation after she learned that the lawmaker would seek a leave of absence for treatment in the wake of the scandal, according to a Pelosi aide who spoke on condition of anonymity.