The scandal surrounding former Rep. Mark Foley (R-Fla.) has evolved from one of a disturbing congressman to a possible institutional cover-up.
Last Friday, Foley resigned abruptly after it was reported that he sent emails and sexually suggestive instant messages to teenage congressional pages. While no member has admitted to having previous knowledge of the messages, it now appears certain that several GOP leaders of the House were aware of Foley’s emails to a sixteen-year-old page as early as the fall of 2005. Not only was little done to investigate the matter, but Foley was also allowed to continue co-chairing the Congressional Missing and Exploited Children's Caucus. While some details remain unclear as a result of conflicting statements by those involved, let's review what we know.
The first member to catch wind of the emails was Rep. Rodney Alexander (R-La.), who sponsored the page. Alexander contacted House Speaker Dennis Hastert’s (R-Ill.) office late in 2005, at which point Hastert’s deputy chief of staff and counsel referred him to the Clerk of the House. When the clerk asked to see the text of the email, Alexander declined, citing that “his (the page) parents said they didn’t want me to do anything.”
Page Committee Chairman John Shimkus (R-Ill.) claims that in late 2005, information was passed along to him by the clerk’s office regarding the email exchange. Shimkus advised Foley to immediately stop contacting the boy, and Foley agreed. Shimkus never informed Rep. Dale Kildee (D-Mich.), the lone Democrat on the Page Committee, about the situation. Kildee, who has served on the page committee for twenty years, was not alone in his exclusion. No House Democrat, including Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), appears to have been notified.
In the spring of 2006, Alexander told National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Tom Reynolds (R-N.Y.) about Foley's emails. Reynolds claims to have then informed Hastert that the situation was investigated by both the clerk and Shimkus. Hastert, however, originally claimed last week that he had no knowledge of Foley’s emails until his resignation. When confronted about the contradiction, Hastert did not deny that the conversation with Reynolds took place. According to the Washington Post, the word is that Reynolds spoke out because he was angry that Hastert appeared willing to let him take the fall for the party leadership’s silence.
More fishy behavior came from House Majority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio). On Friday evening, he told the Washington Post that he had first learned of the inappropriate contact between Foley and the page in the spring of 2006, and that he then contacted Hastert concerning the matter. Oddly, Boehner later contacted the Post to state that he could not remember whether or not he had spoken with Hastert.
Outraged by the apparent cover-up, Minority Leader Pelosi called for an Ethics Committee investigation into the matter. Faced with pressure from all sides, Hastert not only agreed but also requested that the Justice Department investigate who knew of the messages and failed to report the information to the proper authorities. Chris Shays (R-Conn.), a Republican fighting for his political life in next month’s midterm elections, sought to distance himself from the scandal by arguing that any member of the GOP leadership who knew of Foley's activities and took no action should resign.