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October 3, 2006
Blankley Says Hastert Must Go

The Washington Times' Tony Blankley has joined a small chorus of voices calling for the resignation of Denny Hastert as Speaker of the House:

The facts of the disgrace of Mark Foley, who was a Republican member of the House from a Florida district until he resigned last week, constitute a disgrace for every Republican member of Congress. Red flags emerged in late 2005, perhaps even earlier, in suggestive and wholly inappropriate e-mail messages to underage congressional pages. His aberrant, predatory -- and possibly criminal -- behavior was an open secret among the pages who were his prey. The evidence was strong enough long enough ago that the speaker should have relieved Mr. Foley of his committee responsibilities contingent on a full investigation to learn what had taken place, whether any laws had been violated and what action, up to and including prosecution, were warranted by the facts. This never happened.

Rep. John Shimkus of Illinois, the Republican chairman of the House Page Board, said he learned about the Foley e-mail messages "in late 2005." Rep. John Boehner of Ohio, the leader of the Republican majority, said he was informed of the e-mail messages earlier this year. On Friday, Mr. Hastert dissembled, to put it charitably, before conceding that he, too, learned about the e-mail messages sometime earlier this year. Late yesterday afternoon, Mr. Hastert insisted that he learned of the most flagrant instant-message exchange from 2003 only last Friday, when it was reported by ABC News. This is irrelevant. The original e-mail messages were warning enough that a predator -- and, incredibly, the co-chairman of the House Caucus on Missing and Exploited Children -- could be prowling the halls of Congress. The matter wasn't pursued aggressively. It was barely pursued at all. Moreover, all available evidence suggests that the Republican leadership did not share anything related to this matter with any Democrat. ...

House Speaker Dennis Hastert must do the only right thing, and resign his speakership at once. Either he was grossly negligent for not taking the red flags fully into account and ordering a swift investigation, for not even remembering the order of events leading up to last week's revelations -- or he deliberately looked the other way in hopes that a brewing scandal would simply blow away. He gave phony answers Friday to the old and ever-relevant questions of what did he know and when did he know it? Mr. Hastert has forfeited the confidence of the public and his party, and he cannot preside over the necessary coming investigation, an investigation that must examine his own inept performance.

As I wrote earlier, the strange reluctance of Republicans to investigate the earlier e-mails combined with Hastert's clumsy attempts to distance himself from the scandal on Friday have compounded the scandal -- which by all rights should fall completely on Mark Foley himself. Hastert's staffers told the press on Friday that he hadn't known of a problem with Foley, forcing John Boehner to retract his statement that he himself had told Hastert of the issue. Only after Thomas Reynolds went public the next day did Hastert himself admit that he had known of the earlier e-mails.

But let's put that aside for the moment, and concentrate on what Hastert and the leadership say they did in response to Foley. Once they found out about the e-mails through the complaint of an underage page, all they did was ask Foley about it, and accepted his denials at face value. Incredibly, no one apparently ever asked any of Foley's former or current pages if they had noticed any inappropriate behavior from the Congressman. What kind of an investigation doesn't address the reality of patterns in allegedly predatory behavior? Foley's uncommon interest in young teenage boys had become parlor talk among the pages, but either Hastert didn't want to find that out or deliberately avoided it. Hastert apparently made the decision not to follow procedures and refer the matter to the Page Board, the bipartisan committee that oversees pages, and that looks very clearly like a cover-up.

And someone has to explain why Foley retained his position on the Caucus for Missing and Exploited Children. No one saw a problem with this?

Even ascribing the best of intentions to Hastert and the other members of leadership, personal friendship with Foley doesn't excuse that level of incompetence. Furthermore, when the scandal broke, Hastert should have immediately explained his involvement in the earlier complaint, rather than wait for it to dribble out. That's what leadership means: controlling a situation and providing an example rather than allowing events to control you and your party. All Hastert needed to do was to come out on Friday and said, "We had a complaint about suggestive e-mails this winter, and we relied on Mark Foley's word that nothing more untoward had occurred. In hindsight, that was a mistake, but we wanted to honor the wishes of the parents and not make a public spectacle of the situation." It wouldn't have explained the earlier incompetence, but at least it would have dampened the firestorm that erupted around the changing stories of House leadership.

I can't agree with Blankley's suggestion for a new, interim Speaker. Henry Hyde is a fine Congressman, but if he thinks that the author of Clinton's impeachment will serve as a symbol of bipartisan cooperation, he's mistaken. The GOP needs to find a reformer for the short-term position, someone whose reputation for clean government will be beyond reproach. However, Blankley's call for new leadership in some form is one that the Republicans should heed.

UPDATE: Brendan Miniter doesn't go as far as Tony Blankley, but he's on the same wavelength:

Here's what we know so far: Late last year, when informed that there might be something amiss, the speaker's office referred the issue to Rep. John Shimkus of Illinois. He heads the committee in charge of the page program, and he took a look at the few emails that had surfaced. Mr. Shimkus was concerned enough by what he saw to confront Mr. Foley and tell him to cut off all direct contact with underage pages. The Florida congressman apparently spun a story that he was only mentoring the boy who had received the emails. And, looking over messages asking for a picture and what the page wanted for his birthday, Mr. Shimkus apparently bought it. But the question that will haunt Republicans now is, if the evidence was compelling enough to confront Mr. Foley, why wasn't it also compelling enough to dig deeper?

We also know that Mr. Foley, an active campaigner and prolific fund-raiser, flirted with the idea of running for Senate this year (spurred on by some Republicans who considered him a stronger candidate than Rep. Katherine Harris, who still carried baggage from the 2000 election). He inexplicably withdrew from consideration several months ago. When ambitious politicians suddenly decide not to climb to a higher rung on the political ladder, there's usually a good reason. Since Mr. Shimkus was already aware of concerns of Mr. Foley's emails to congressional pages, it's fair to ask another question to which Republicans may prefer not to find an answer: After Mr. Foley folded up his Senate ambitions, why didn't Mr. Shimkus or anyone else considered the possibility that there was more to those emails than Mr. Foley let on?

Other voices: Hugh Hewitt disagrees; be sure to read his whole post. OTB agrees, as does La Shawn Barber.

UPDATE: Dafydd ab Hugh disagrees as well, and at length. Be sure to read all of my old co-blogger's post.

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at October 3, 2006 6:04 AM

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» Should Hastert and Frist Go? from Outside The Beltway | OTB
Should Speaker of the House Denny Hastert and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist resign or otherwise be removed from their posts? Given that their inept leadership has made it far more likely that the Democrats will take over their respective Houses of ... [Read More]

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» DON'T Resign, Mr. Speaker from Iowa Voice
The Washington Times, which is normally a somewhat right-leaning paper, has an op-ed telling Speaker Hastert to resign: The facts of the disgrace of Mark Foley, who was a Republican member of the House from a Florida district until he resigned last wee [Read More]

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What's the most basic issue that goes back to the days way before there were political parties? Back to prehistoric times? Protecting your family. Protecting your kids. And, if you don't have kids, protecting kids.

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» Why Foley Teen Boy Scandal Can Fuel GOP Defeat (UPDATED) from The Moderate Voice
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» Betrayed by Republican Leaders from Strong As An Ox And Nearly As Smart
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