White House press secretary Tony Snow may be ready to dismiss Rep. Mark Foley's sexually explicit exchanges with underage House pages as nothing more than "naughty e-mails," but that's not the response we're hearing from most quarters.
What we're hearing is, What did they know and when did they know it?
Foley resigned Friday after ABC News confronted him with sexually explicit instant-messaging text he sent to a House page. As the network reports, those messages weren't exactly new; the network says it has seen two sets that date from 2002. One former page tells the Washington Post that he saw some sexually explicit messages from Foley during a page reunion held in 2003, and that three or four members of his 2001-2002 page class were at the receiving end of such messages.
That would be around the same time that another former page says a supervisor in the House clerk's office was telling pages not to "get too wrapped up in [Foley] being too nice to you and all that kind of stuff." It would also be around the same time that Republican Rep. John Shimkus was referring to Foley in public as "someone who spends a lot of time" with pages -- and that Foley told a story, on the House floor, about taking a page to a private dinner at Morton's after the page won a lunch-with-the-congressman auction.
What did they know and when did they know it?
The party line so far is that no one in the House leadership knew about the sexually explicit IMs until this week. What about the creepy but susceptible to multiple interpretations e-mail messages that Foley sent to a 16-year-old page more recently? As the New York Times lays out the timeline, Rep. Rodney Alexander told Rep. Tom Reynolds about those e-mail messages in the fall of 2005. Reynolds says he told House Speaker Dennis Hastert about the messages. Hastert initially said that he knew nothing about the messages; now his office says that he doesn't remember a conversation with Reynolds but doesn't have any reason to doubt Reynolds' claim that one occurred.
Reynolds' staffers also briefed Hastert's chief of staff last fall, and staffers from Reynolds' office and Hastert's office then discussed the e-mails with House Clerk Jeff Trandahl. Trandahl told Illinois Rep. Shimkus, the chairman of the House Page Board. Ultimately, Trandahl and Shimkus met with Foley, who apparently assured them that his contact with the page in question had been innocent.
The FBI has now launched a preliminary investigation into Foley's activities, and Hastert has called on the Justice Department to conduct an investigation into -- well, something. Like Foley's e-mail messages, Hastert's letter to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales is open to at least a couple of interpretations. While the mainstream media says Hastert is asking for an investigation into everything and everyone associated with the Foley case, his letter seems a little more circumscribed than that. Hastert told Gonzales that "the scope" of his investigation should include "any and all individuals who may have been aware of this matter, be they members of Congress, employees of the House of Representatives or anyone outside the Congress," but then he said that, to the best of his knowledge, no one in the House leadership was aware of the existence of the sexually explicit IMs until last week. The implication: Find out if someone else knew about the messages, and see if you can prosecute them for not going to the authorities sooner.