Friday, October 06, 2006

Washington Loves A Scandal

The subpoenas are going out, and the focus is on the cover-up:

The (House ethics committee) approved nearly four dozen subpoenas for documents and testimony from House members, officers and aides. Its leaders said they plan to complete the inquiry in a matter of weeks, but not necessarily before the Nov. 7 congressional elections. ...

The committee's inquiry will proceed in tandem with investigations by the FBI and Florida officials. Unlike those agencies, the ethics committee has no jurisdiction over Foley, who resigned last week as ABC News was publishing sexually graphic electronic messages between him and teenage former congressional pages. Hastings said his committee will focus on the "conduct of House members, officers and staff related to information concerning improper conduct involving members and current and former pages." ...

Kirk Fordham, Foley's former chief of staff, said this week that he repeatedly alerted Hastert's staff in 2003 to complaints that the Florida lawmaker was showing inappropriate interest in male pages...

Some Republicans said they are most concerned about Fordham's assertions. Scott Palmer, the speaker's top aide, has denied the allegations and spent much of Wednesday night rummaging through old e-mails and files to determine whether he ever corresponded with Fordham, a source close to Hastert said. Palmer, who was described as very emotional, told Hastert that Fordham's assertions are false, the source said.

Hastert's office has been on edge. Deputy Chief of Staff Mike Stokke, who handles politics for the speaker, has offered to resign, two sources close to Hastert said, and several aides have expressed frustration that Ted Van Der Meid, the top counsel in the office, did not do a better job monitoring the Foley situation. Hastert did not accept Stokke's resignation offer, the source said.

No sale. The whole reason businesses and other important operations maintain in-house counsel is precisely to navigate ambiguous terrain to avoid serious problems. The Foley issue wasn't even ambiguous.

The guy currently in the hot seat, Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert, is having problems relating truthful versions of his story:

Mr. Hastert also said Thursday that the head of the board, Representative John Shimkus, Republican of Illinois, had confronted Mr. Foley over the Louisiana e-mail and "asked him if there were any other messages."

"He said no," Mr. Hastert said.

On Monday, Mr. Hastert said he did not know whether Mr. Shimkus had pressed Mr. Foley on messages to others. Mr. Shimkus, in an interview on Wednesday with The Chicago Tribune, said he did not ask Mr. Foley about other messages.

Another plain gaffe by Hastert made it look like the GOP is angry that the Foley matter became public. That would presumably include the Florida congressman's resulting departure from the House.

Comments that Hastert made in a Tribune interview suggesting the scandal had been orchestrated by ABC News, Democratic political operatives aligned with the Clinton White House and liberal activist George Soros were considered a serious misstep in national Republican circles, an official said. Senior Republican officials contacted Hastert's office before his news conference Thursday to urge that he not repeat the charges and he backed away from them in his press conference.

"The Chicago Tribune interview last night—the George Soros defense—was viewed as incredibly inept," a national Republican official said. "It could have been written by [comedian] Jon Stewart."

The Republican Party, as might be expected, are circling the wagons at this point:

Republicans are calculating that the smartest way to survive the Mark Foley sex scandal is to rally around House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) and hope that no new evidence surfaces before Election Day that shows GOP leaders could have done more to prevent the congressman from preying on young male pages, according to several GOP lawmakers and strategists.

The White House and top House Republicans remain deeply nervous that the scandal will hurt them politically, and that additional information will come out contradicting statements by Hastert and others that they were unaware of Foley's sexual messages to underage boys, the lawmakers and officials said.

For now, they said, it would be politically disastrous for Republicans to oust Hastert because it would be viewed as akin to a public admission of guilt in the scandal, as well as a pre-election victory that would buoy Democrats and help their turnout efforts. ...

Several GOP lawmakers in tough races said voters are not reacting as harshly to the scandal as they first feared, buying Hastert even more room to save his job. Still, lawmakers are privately furious with how Hastert and other leaders have handled the scandal. It has created tension among GOP leaders who have sometimes viewed each other suspiciously since House Majority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) took over after the resignation of Tom DeLay (R-Tex.). And many expect that the worst is still to come.

Dragging this thing out is an ill-advised gamble by the GOP.

There must be a good reason for keeping the matter open in front of the voting public this close to a tight election.

The reason might be that Hastert knows where other party skeletons are buried, and is playing his cards accordingly.

That might explain why a week into a sex scandal involving teenage House pages, President Bush called House Speaker Dennis Hastert on Thursday to thank the embattled Republican leader for how he has handled the situation.

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