WASHINGTON - Tennessee Democratic Rep. Steve Cohen caught flak in the blogosphere this week for his mistakenly public tweets of endearment to a Texas college student half his age as the president's State of the Union address was ending Tuesday night.
Though Cohen, 63 and a bachelor, didn't own up at first to who she was when the tweets became public, he said Thursday night she is a daughter he didn't know he had until three years ago.
The 24-year-old Texas college student and swimsuit model is Victoria Elizabeth Brink, who used her Twitter account to write that she was watching Cohen on television in the House of Representatives chamber. The two exchanged tweets during and after the State of the Union address.
Brink, a student at Texas State University, is also the daughter of a Texas criminal defense lawyer, Cynthia White Sinatra, who unsuccessfully ran for Congress in 2006 against Libertarian Ron Paul, who was a candidate for president last year.
Cohen declined to describe the affair with Sinatra, saying only, "her mother and I have been friends for a long time." There had been a hiatus, "but we renewed our friendship when I found out she was the mother of my child."
According to her law firm web page, Sinatra, 60, is a criminal defense lawyer who was married to Frank Sinatra, Jr., the son of the famous "Old Blue Eyes." She has represented criminal defendants before the International War Crimes Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, including Dragan Jokic, a Bosnia Serb accused of genocide, murder and torture in the 1995 Srebrenica massacre.
After the tweets became public, Cohen spokesman Michael Pagan said Wednesday they were just innocent banter with a family friend.
"I asked him this morning what was the scoop and he was like 'well, she's the daughter of a longtime friend and I consider her like family,'" Pagan said Wednesday.
It wasn't until Thursday night that Cohen acknowledged she was his daughter.
Cohen's tweets were captured by the congressional watchdog group Sunlight Foundation's "Politiwoops" service.
He responded to a tweet from Brink tweet at 10:26 p.m. Eastern time Tuesday, saying "pleased u r watching. ilu."
Ilu is Twitter talk for "I love you."
That message was deleted after three minutes, when Cohen realized he had not sent a private tweet but one the world could see, according to his chief of staff, Marilyn Dillihay.
Brink's messages were not captured, said the Sunlight Foundation's Liz Bartolomeo.
At 7:40 a.m. Wednesday, Cohen tweeted Brink again: "nice to know you were watchin SOTU (state of the union). Happy Valentines beautiful girl. ilu." That was deleted after 15 minutes.
Since the story broke, the blogosphere has been full of commentary on what some suspected was another Twitter scandal like the one that brought down New York Democrat Anthony Weiner in 2011. Some of the more offensive commentary suggested Cohen had been caught having an affair with a young swimsuit model.
Cohen said the "salacious bloggers" and others in the news media "that immediately assumed that it was something different have subjected her and me and others to a lot of pain."
He said it was painful that Brink was dragged into the controversy.
"It's put us through a very difficult couple of days. And she’s a beautiful, young 24-year-old girl who has not been put through the grist of gossip and innuendo and influence, and it was painful for me to witness it and to know that it was because she had reached out to me to express her joy at seeing me at the State of the Union," he said.
Cohen chief of staff Marilyn Dillihay had declined to identify the family friend, saying she was not inclined to invade the privacy of others.
"She is the daughter of a family friend. There's nothing more to this than that. There is not a romantic relationship," Dillihay said. "As far as why it was on a public forum, he didn't intend for it to be. He thought it was a private tweet which is why he took it down."
Tennessee Republicans attempted to make hay out of the situation when the tweets surfaced. Under the headline, "The Weiner of the South," the Tennessee Republican Party's executive director Brent Leatherwood put out a statement Wednesday evening under the headline alluding to the 2011 tweeting scandal that led Rep. Anthony Weiner, a New York Democrat, to resign.
"You would think that after Rep. Weiner was forced to resign due to his inappropriate behavior and use of his official Congressional Twitter account, that members of Congress would hold themselves to a higher standard of conduct," Leatherwood's statement said.
Thursday night, Cohen explained the truth behind the tweets, and publicly acknowledged to a Scripps reporter that he is Brink's father.
He said Brinks had known for four years that she was Cohen's daughter. Cohen said he has known he was her father for three years. Cohen implied that it was only after Brink told the man whom she had regarded as her father that he, in fact, was not that the congressman felt free to reveal the truth.
"What’s going on is that Victoria was able to talk to the gentleman who thought he was her father for these years and tell him what she has known for four years and I've known for three -- that I was her father," Cohen said.
"That allowed me to let the news media know that the woman I had texted and expressed my love for over several years is my daughter," he said. "That is not only entirely appropriate but the right thing to have done."
Even after realizing he had sent a publicly accessible tweet, then quickly deleted it, Cohen said he felt he needed to send another on Wednesday morning “to make sure she knew -- because our relationship has been developing over these three years – and I just wanted to assure her of my unconditional love at every opportunity I can.”
Brink did not immediately respond to requests for an interview.
Brink's profile on CollegeDozen.com says she was born in Houston and has lived in Beverly Hills and Holland. After studying at Texas State in San Marcos, Texas, she plans to work in the fashion industry, but says if she doesn't find her "dream job," she plans to travel or "spend time doing charity." She likes spending time with her family, friends and two dogs.
She shares an interest in animal care with Cohen, writing on the profile: "I am an active member of the ASPCA. I love animals and strongly support all organizations that are dedicated toward finding homes for animals in need."
(Reach Scripps Washington correspondent Bartholomew Sullivan at firstname.lastname@example.org.)