The truth about who knew what when about Florida Rep. Mark Foley and his contact with congressional pages likely won’t be fully known until investigations, by the FBI and House Ethics Committee, are complete. However, as more details emerge about the extent and duration of Rep. Foley’s relationships with congressional pages, it is becoming increasingly difficult for Republican leaders to maintain their claims of ignorance about the problem.
While leaders dispute accounts from lower-ranking staff members, the public and many Republicans seeking re-election have already made up their minds that House Speaker Dennis Hastert did not do enough to end the inappropriate behavior.
News accounts over the weekend traced complaints about Rep. Foley’s inappropriate relationships with pages, high school-age students who deliver messages and run errands for member of Congress, back as far as 2000. One former page told the Los Angeles Times that he had a sexual encounter with Rep. Foley after the young man had turned 21.
A former top aide to Rep. Foley, Kirk Fordham, has repeatedly said he told Speaker Hastert’s chief of staff of complaints about the Florida congressman’s conduct with pages in 2003 or earlier. The chief of staff, Scott Palmer, denies that assertion. Mr. Hastert has said he was made aware of “overly friendly” e-mails last fall.
House Majority Leader John A. Boehner and Rep. Tom Reynolds, a New York Republican who heads the National Republican Congressional Committee, also said they had told Mr. Hastert of concerns about Rep. Foley’s interaction with pages. The speaker has said he did not remember those conversations, but did not deny they took place.
To the public, this looks like a coverup. A Newsweek poll found that
52 percent of Americans – including 29 percent of Republicans – believed that Speaker Hastert was aware of Rep. Foley’s conduct and tried to cover it up. A CNN poll over the weekend found that 52 percent of respondents thought Mr. Hastert should resign as speaker.
Last week, several Republicans seeking re-election canceled campaign appearances with Speaker Hastert.
It took this sex scandal, not the war in Iraq, not debate over the treatment
of detainees in the war on terror, not wiretapping, to create splits within the Republican leadership. The scandal involving former Rep. Foley, who resigned last month after explicit e-mails he sent to congressional pages were made public, highlights a continuing problem with Congress and its leadership – a failure to ask questions.
House Majority Whip Roy Blunt, a Republican from Missouri, said last week the root problem with the way the Foley matter was handled was a lack of curiosity. “You have to ask all the questions you can think of,” he said.
That’s good advice. Belatedly, Congress should heed it.