Thursday, October 05, 2006

Hastert to take responsibility for Foley scandal

As the House Ethics Committee meets behind closed doors to discuss the Foley scandal, House Speaker Dennis Hastert is planning to take responsibility for the mess -- though not resign.

At a news conference in his home district in Illinois, Hastert will also ask the Ethics Committee to consider new rules so that anyone making inappropriate contact with pages be disciplined. In the case of staff, they would be fired; lawmakers would be subject to expulsion, the official said.

Hastert also was ready to appoint an outside expert to investigate the scandal and recommend changes to the page program, virtually as old as Congress itself.

Hastert's right about one thing: outside demands for resignation are premature. If it turns out he knew about more than the relatively tame e-mails (rather than the lurid IMs), he should go. But we don't know that yet. So sharp questioning should continue, but it's too early to kick him out of his leadership position.

On the other hand, GOP legislators may toss him out simply for letting this scandal pop up five weeks before a crucial election. A sacrificial lamb may be needed, and he might be it.

Regarding what Hastert knew when, a former GOP aide says he warned Hastert three years ago about Foley (though it's not clear that such a warning included details of the explicit IMs that are really driving this controversy). In any case, Hastert's office flatly denies the claim.

Addressing where the leaks came from, the e-mails appear to have been midwifed by a gay activist named Michael Rogers, who claims to have helped provide the e-mails to ABC, and gave Democrats a heads-up that something was coming.

The original leak, however, may have been a longtime GOP aide. This article from The Hill relies on anonymous sources, but I'd wager that the "source" is in fact Rogers, and at least The Hill goes into detail about the supporting documentation. The article also notes that the IMs surfaced in response to the leak of the e-mails, suggesting that perhaps nobody was sitting on anything.

So efforts to link the scandal to Democrats are so far not bearing much fruit. They jumped on the bandwagon, of course (with Minnesota candidate Patty Wetterling even going so far as to rush out a misleading ad about it), but what we appear to have is the Dems getting nothing more than a heads up from Rogers a few days before Foleygate broke -- a heads up regarding the e-mails, not the IMs. And the DCCC didn't even return Rogers' call until just before the scandal broke.

For now, we have a lot of questions. But not enough yet to firmly tar either the GOP leadership or allegedly conniving Democrats.

Update: It's not Foley related, but in the vein of Republican sex scandals, we have the odd spectacle of Rep. Don Sherwood running a TV ad in which he apologizes for having an affair but denies trying to strangle his mistress. I'm sure that'll win a lot of votes.

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