It's the coverup, stupid

As Foleygate festers, the finger-pointing GOP leadership is proving once again that it's not the crime that kills you.

Published October 5, 2006 11:30AM (EDT)

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"Maf54" is Mark A. Foley, the congressman who represented the wealthy district of Palm Beach, Fla., and chaired the Missing and Exploited Children's Caucus of the House of Representatives, writing an e-mail in 2003 to a teenage former House page, one of the young interns who run errands for members of Congress. When several of his instant message chats and e-mails to pages were exposed last week, Foley resigned. One page, who had forwarded Foley's e-mail messages to a congressional staffer with the description "sick sick sick sick," told his parents, who in turn told their Republican congressman, who told the House Republican leaders, who kept the sexual predator in their midst a secret.

Maf54 (7:39:32 PM): you need a massage

As Republican control of Congress in the midterm elections teeters on the precipice, the party leaders suddenly find themselves rediscovering the harsh reality of Richard Nixon's commentary on the Watergate scandal, that it's not the crime that kills you but the coverup.

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Mark Foley was elected in the so-called Republican revolution of 1994. He was a voluble, excitable and genial member, involved in various plots against Speaker Newt Gingrich, a shrill right-winger, for not being hard-line enough, and yet at the same time adopting the stance of a social moderate. Foley's particular interest was in legislation protecting children; he most recently sponsored a bill to protect them from online sex predators.

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From the moment he arrived on the scene, many people in the press and politics knew that Foley was gay, among several gays in the Republican Party. As the Republicans demonized gays for partisan advantage, the party became the largest walk-in closet in Washington. After the scandal broke, one gay Republican described Foley to me as incredibly indiscreet, groping young men in public places. Almost everyone on Capitol Hill knew that Foley spent an inordinate amount of time hanging out with pages.

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Foley's obvious vulnerability did not inhibit him from holding forth during the impeachment trial of President Clinton: "It's vile. It's more sad than anything else, to see someone with such potential throw it all down the drain because of a sexual addiction."

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Republican leaders have known about Foley's preying on pages since at least 2001. As soon as hints of their coverup were revealed, they began falling over each other offering shifting and conflicting stories. The congressman first contacted by the parents of one page, Rep. Rodney Alexander, said he first informed Thomas Reynolds, chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee. Shortly after Reynolds learned about Foley, Foley gave the Republican committee $100,000. Speaker Dennis Hastert at first claimed he had learned about Foley only last week, but then admitted he had known for almost a year. Majority Leader John Boehner said he learned nearly a year ago and had passed on the information to the speaker, who told him, "We're taking care of it." In 2005, Foley said, "We track library books better than we do sexual predators."

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This week, Foley announced he was an alcoholic, entered a rehabilitation clinic, and said a Catholic priest had molested him as a child. The FBI began an investigation. Hastert, who had tried to downplay the scandal as about "overly friendly" e-mails, referred the matter to the Bush Justice Department to try to limit any probe into the coverup. White House press secretary Tony Snow pooh-poohed the scandal as "simply naughty e-mails." One Republican congressman declared that anyone in the leadership who knew should resign. Another returned contributions from the NRCC as tainted. The conservative Washington Times editorialized, "Resign, Mr. Speaker."

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In 2004, Republicans galvanized the turnout of their base voters through referendums against gay marriage in 16 swing states. This June, Hastert unveiled the Republican platform for the 2006 campaign, the "American Values Agenda." Atop his Web site he posted: "Hastert Drives Effort to 'Keep Kids Safe in Cyberspace.'" Now, the Republican leaders' blame casting resembles the last scene of "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre," in which the varmints battle each other as their gold dust blows away.

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Xxxxxxxxx (8:10:54 PM): ... my mom is yelling

Maf54 (8:11:06 PM): ok

Xxxxxxxxx (8:14:02 PM): back

Maf54 (8:14:37 PM): cool hope se didnt see any thing

By Sidney Blumenthal

Sidney Blumenthal, a former assistant and senior advisor to President Clinton, writes a column for Salon and the Guardian of London. His new book is titled "How Bush Rules: Chronicles of a Radical Regime." He is a senior fellow at the New York University Center on Law and Security.

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