For Reynolds and Hastert, the Foley plot thickens

The NRCC chairman's chief of staff reportedly tried to persuade ABC to bury Foley's instant messages; the Washington Times calls on Speaker Hastert to resign.

By Tim Grieve

Published October 3, 2006 3:26AM (EDT)

Maybe the House Republican leadership weathers the Mark Foley crisis. But there are developments on two tracks tonight that suggest it may be harder for either National Republican Congressional Committee chairman Tom Reynolds or House Speaker Dennis Hastert to get through this scandal than we would have thought just a few hours ago.

Let's take Reynolds first. Reynolds learned of Foley's e-mail exchange with a 16-year-old page in the spring of 2006, early enough to follow up with an investigation and -- if it revealed anything troubling -- insist that Foley drop his reelection campaign. Instead, it appears that Reynolds did nothing with his knowledge about Foley except pass it along to Hastert together with what Hastert calls "other things that might have affected campaigns." Two things to note here: In failing to do something more about Foley, Reynolds failed to protect other pages and failed in his job of trying to get Republicans elected and reelected to the House. If Foley is gone in the spring, his GOP replacement has a decent shot at winning in November; with Foley forced to leave the race late instead, his name remains on the ballot, and as House Majority Leader John Boehner is now conceding, the Republicans have virtually no chance of holding onto his seat.

We knew all of that hours ago. Here's the new part. As we noted earlier today, ABC's Brian Ross has told the Washington Post's Howard Kurtz that a strategist for Foley tried to cut a deal with him last week: Ross doesn't disclose the sexually explicit instant messages Foley sent to pages, and the strategist gets Ross an "exclusive" on Foley's resignation. Thanks to AMERICAblog's John Aravosis, we know now that that strategist was Kirk Fordham.

Who is Fordham? He's a former chief of staff for Foley who is currently the chief of staff for Reynolds. Reynolds, it seems, lent Fordham's services to Foley to help him navigate his way out of the page scandal. And what does that mean? It means, as Glenn Greenwald explains, that "the top aide to one of the Republican House leaders, as recently as last Friday, tried to suppress the most incriminating and important facts regarding this scandal. Isn't that the very definition of 'cover-up'?"

Indeed, it is. And Tuesday in Washington, Reynolds will have a whole new round of questions to answer about what he knew of his chief of staff's role in it.

And now for Hastert. The speaker acknowledges that Reynolds may have told him about Foley's e-mail exchange in the spring but says he just doesn't remember it. In an unusually mocking retort, CNN's Andrea Koppel told Hastert this afternoon, "This is the kind of thing, I've got to tell you, if somebody told me that a senior congressman was sending, perhaps, 'over-friendly' e-mails to a 16-year-old page, I'd remember." Hastert's pathetic response: "I'm just saying that I don't remember him telling me that." Pressed at another point today to explain why Republicans didn't do more when they first learned of Foley's problems, all Hastert could say was, "Would have, could have, should have."

Hastert might have bettered his lot if he'd put on some sort of bravura, take-charge performance today. But as night fell in Washington, right-wing pundit Bay Buchanan was saying that Hastert had "failed the parents of this country," and conservatives like Michael Reagan and Richard Viguerie were calling for his resignation. Now it's getting worse. As Matt Drudge is reporting -- and, if the flashing police light is any indication, doing so with some degree of enthusiasm -- the right-wing Washington Times will call for Hastert to step down in Tuesday's paper. "House Speaker Dennis Hastert must do the only right thing, and resign his speakership at once," Drudge quotes the Times as saying. "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."

Neither Drudge nor the Times can force Hastert to leave, of course. And aside from marginalized GOP dissenters like Walter P. Jones and Christopher Shays, House Republicans who are talking about the need for "dramatic" steps seem to be referring so far to ideas like abolishing the House page program. But at some point, Karl Rove, Ken Mehlman and a House full of nervous Republicans may decide that they can't bear to have any more days like today between now and the midterm elections -- especially if it looks like already unhappy "values" voters might respond to it all by staying home in droves on Nov. 7. If that moment comes, look for Hastert to leave the speaker's office as quickly as he came to it during another Republican sex scandal eight years ago.

Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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