Foley and the Blame Game

Pardon me, but I smell something very peculiar in the way we have learned of the disgrace of Rep. Mark Foley.

The email scandal which led to the resignation of the Republican Congressman is reverberating throughout the capital and the nation, as Democrats attempt to capitalize on bad news for Republicans. The seamiest of the released emails, which Foley has not denied, are right up there with Rhodes Scholar and Illinois Democratic Congressman Mel Reynolds' taped phone conversations lusting for 15 year old Catholic school girls in their uniforms.

But Democrats are attempting to make hay by alleging that the Republican leadership may have known about the inappropriate emails and covered them up for months. Their hope, no doubt, is to discourage turnout by disillusioned evangelical and other voters sensitive to moral issues. But the emerging background detail suggests that this is simply not the case, and that an attack strategy has been devised by parties anxious to damage the GOP and swing the coming election.

In July a blog  appeared, designed it said to trace sex predators. Few posts were made in that month or the following month. All recounted years old stories. Then on September 18, the blog printed the fairly innocuous email exchange between Congressman Foley and an unnamed page.

In this correspondence initiated by the former page, Foley asks the former page how he is after Katrina (the boy lived in Louisiana) and asked for a photo.
Thus began the latest political kerfuffle which swirls through the final five weeks of the campaign. How likely is it that this site with virtually no readership , few posts and hardly any history or posts of interest suddenly receives this bombshell? I'd say slight. About as likely as Lucy Ramirez handing Burkett Bush's TANG papers.
Let's track back what else we know of this story.
Sometime last year a former page contacted the St. Petersburg Times with an exchange of emails between himself and Congressman Foley.
In the words of the editor, they never ran the story. (The following has been realeased by the office of the Speaker of the House, but does not yet appear online at the time of this writing.) 

In November of last year, we were given copies of an email exchange  Foley had with a former page from Louisiana. Other news organizations later  got them, too. The conversation in those emails was friendly chit—chat.  Foley asked the boy about how he had come through Hurricane Katrina and about  the boy's upcoming birthday. In one of those emails, Foley casually asked  theteen to send him a "pic" of himself. Also among those emails was the  page's exchange with a congressional staffer in the office of Rep. Alexander,  who had been the teen's sponsor in the page program. The teen shared his exchange he'd had with Foley and asked the staffer if she thought Foley was out of bounds.

There was nothing overtly sexual in the emails, but we assigned two reporters to find out more. We found the Louisiana page and talked with him.He told us Foley's request for a photo made him uncomfortable so he never responded, but both he and his parents made clear we could not use his name if we wrote a story. We also found another page who was willing to go on the record, but his experience with Foley was different. He said Foley did send a few emails but never said anything in them that he found inappropriate. We tried to find other pages but had no luck. We spoke with Rep. Alexander, who said the boy's family didn't want it pursued, and Foley, who insisted he was merely trying to be friendly and never wanted to make the page uncomfortable.

So, what we had was a set of emails between Foley and a teenager, who wouldn't go on the record about how those emails made him feel. As we said in today's paper, our policy is that we don't make accusations against people using unnamed sources. And given the seriousness of what would  be implied in a story, it was critical that we have complete confidence in  our sourcing. After much discussion among top editors at the paper, we  concluded that the information we had on Foley last November didn't meet our standard for publication. Evidently, other news organizations felt the same way.

Since that time, we revisited the question more than once, but never learned anything that changed our position. [b]The Louisiana boy's emails broke into the open last weekend, when a blogger got copies and posted them online. Later that week, on Thursday, a news blog at the website of ABC News followed suit, with the addition of one new fact: Foley's Democratic opponent, Tim Mahoney, was on the record about the Louisiana boy's emails and was calling for an investigation. That's when we wrote our first  story,for Friday's papers.

After ABC News broke the story on its website, someone contacted ABC and provided a detailed email exchange between Foley and at least one other page that was far different from what we had seen before. This was overtly sexual, not something Foley could dismiss as misinterpreted friendliness. That's what drove Foley to resign on Friday.

So, the paper had nothing it could act on. But Foley's opponent somehow got wind of the story which had appeared before only on a very new, utterly obscure blogsite and demanded an investigation. ABC then picked up the story and when it did , further anonymous sources with far more salacious and troublesome evidence appeared on the scene. What an amazing——and unlikely to me——turn of events.
Like that paper, the Republican leadership only knew of the innocuous email exchange:

Late night Congressman Hastert said of the incident (in terms remarkably similar to the editor's):

In the fall of 2005 Tim Kennedy, a staff assistant in the Speaker's Office, received a telephone call from Congressman Rodney Alexander's Chief of  Staff who indicated that he had an email exchange between Congressman Foley and a former House page.  He did not reveal the specific text of the email but expressed that he and Congressman Alexander were concerned about it.

Tim Kennedy immediately discussed the matter with his supervisor, Mike Stokke, Speaker Hastert's Deputy Chief of Staff.  Stokke directed Kennedy to ask Ted Van Der Meid, the Speaker's in house Counsel, who the proper person was for Congressman Alexander to report a problem related to a former page.Ted Van Der Meid told Kennedy it was the Clerk of the House who should be notified as the responsible House Officer for the page program.  Later thatday Stokke met with Congressman Alexander's Chief of Staff.  Once again the specific content of the email was not discussed.  Stokke called the
Clerk and asked him to come to the Speaker's Office so that he could put him together with Congressman Alexander's Chief of Staff.  The Clerk and Congressman Alexander's Chief of Staff then went to the Clerk's Office to discuss the matter.

The Clerk asked to see the text of the email.  Congressman Alexander's office declined citing the fact that the family wished to maintain as  much privacy as possible and simply wanted the contact to stop.  The Clerk asked if the email exchange was of a sexual nature and was assured it was  not. Congressman Alexander's Chief of Staff characterized the email exchange as over—friendly.

The Clerk then contacted Congressman Shimkus, the Chairman of the Page Board to request an immediate meeting.  It appears he also notified Van Der Meid that he had received the complaint and was taking action.  This is entirely consistent with what he would normally expect to occur as he was the Speaker's Office liaison with the Clerk's Office.

The Clerk and Congressman Shimkus met and then immediately met with Foley to discuss the matter.  They asked Foley about the email.  Congressman Shimkus and the Clerk made it clear that to avoid even the appearance of impropriety and at the request of the parents, Congressman Foley was to immediately cease any communication with the young man.

The Clerk recalls that later that day he encountered Van Der Meid on the House floor and reported to him that he and Shimkus personally had spoken to Foley and had taken corrective action. 

Mindful of the sensitivity to the parent's wishes to protect their child's privacy and believing that they had promptly reported what they knew to the proper authorities Kennedy, Van Der Meid and Stokke did not discuss the matter with others in the Speaker's Office.

Congressman Tom Reynolds in a statement issued today indicates that many months later, in the spring of 2006, he was approached by Congressman Alexander who mentioned the Foley issue from the previous fall.  During a meeting with the Speaker he says he noted the issue which had been raised by Alexander and told the Speaker that an investigation was conducted by the Clerk of the House and Shimkus.  While the Speaker does not explicitly recall this conversation, he has no reason to dispute Congressman Reynold's recollection that he reported to him on the problem and its resolution.

Sexually Explicit Instant Message Transcript

No one in the Speaker's Office was made aware of the sexually explicit text messages which press reports suggest had been directed to another individual until they were revealed in the press and on the internet this week.  In fact, no one was ever made aware of any sexually explicit email or text messages at any time.

It is not only the recent, unread blog spot breaking the story which raises my suspicions. The  rest of the genesis of the story is as murky.

Brian Ross of ABC ran the story, beginning with the same "overly friendly" but not sexually suggestive email exchange and adding a series of  instant messages dating to 2003 previously unseen by anyone in Congress between Foley and anonymous recipients said to be former pages. The Republican leaders, seeing the more damning correspondence, sought and got Foley's resignation.

As soon as the ABC story ran, and organization called C.R.E.W., which said it had the original exchange which Hastert had heard of and the St Peterburg paper had seen, put them on their website .They said they'd earlier conveyed them to the FBI, were releasing them because of the ABC story, and asked for the appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate the Republican leadership.It is abundantly clear to me that C.R.E.W. and ABC communicated and may have coordinated the release of this story.

Who is C.R.E.W.?

Here's what The Hill wrote:

One target of Republican criticism is Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), the group that last year assisted former Rep. Chris Bell (D—Texas) in drafting an ethics complaint against DeLay, which resulted in an admonishment of DeLay from the ethics committee. At last week's press conference, Melanie Sloan, CREW's executive director, said that DeLay should step down as majority leader.

From 1995 to 1998, CREW's Sloan served as minority counsel for the House Judiciary Committee under Rep. John Conyers (D—Mich.). Before that, Sloan served as the nominations counsel on the Senate Judiciary Committee under Sen. Joe Biden (D—Del.).

According to GOP research, Mark Penn, who had been a pollster for President Clinton, and Daniel Berger, a major Democratic donor, are on CREW's board. Spokeswoman Naomi Seligman declined several requests to reveal the membership of CREW's board, although she confirmed that Penn and Berger are members. Last year, Berger made a $100,000 contribution to America Coming Together (ACT), a 527 group that was dedicated to defeating Bush in the presidential election, according to, a website that tracks fundraising.

CREW declined to respond to the RNC talking points or House GOP research.

C.R.E.W. is one of four "public interest" organizations which the RNC has long identifed as  major recipients of George Soros richly—funded Open Society Institute. It is backing  the risible Wilson/Plame  civil suit against Cheney and others.

What do we know of Brian Ross?

My favorite media watcher, Steve Gilbert reports:

Brian Ross of ABC News is the reporter behind the story that Rep. Dennis Hastert is being investigated by the Department Of Justice. Ross is sticking to his charges despite vehement denials from both the DOJ and Hastert himself.

Some may recall that Brian Ross has been involved in past journalistic controversies. Just last week, Mr. Ross reported he was tipped off by unnamed "senior federal officials" that his cell phone was tapped by NSA.

Last month, Ross was one of the first (if not the first) to report that Rush Limbaugh "had been arrested." Reports which turned out to be greatly exaggerated, but which Ross never corrected.

In January, Brian Ross was the first to promulgate the claims of the self—proclaimed NSA whistleblower, Russell Tice. Ross treated Tice has a highly credible source even though Tice had been cashiered from the agency due to "psychological problems."

ABC has not disclosed the names of the recipients of the instant messages which were sexually explicit, years old, and not seen by anyone else.
We do not know how anyone but the recipients could have retrieved them.
We do not even know if they are authentic.
None of the recipients has come forward and identified himself.
What we do know is that reputable media and the Republican leadership acted appropriately on the initial innocuous correspondence and could not proceed further in view of the parents' demand that their son's privacy be respected only to find  months later just before the election that same correpondence showing up on an unlikely blog site and then almost simultaneously on ABC and on  C.R.E.W.'s site.
As for the demand that a special prosecutor be appointed, maybe Patrick Fitzgerald can be appointed. Then he can fail to ask ABC or C.R.E.W. how they got the correspondence, ignore their political motivations, conflate their partisanship with "whistleblowing", not look for the sources of the later sexually explicit emails, and nab Hastert for forgetting when he went to the bathroom on the day he heard about the emails.
Clarice Feldman is an attorney in Washington, DC. and a frequent contributor to American Thinker