"A disconcerting unwillingness to take responsibility"

The House investigation into the Mark Foley scandal says virtually no one did his job.


Tim Grieve
December 9, 2006 2:17AM (UTC)

The House Ethics Committee is not recommending punishment for anyone involved in the Mark Foley case, but that's only because, it seems, there's no specific House rules against "looking away," "passing the buck" and "burying your head in the sand."

If there were, the committee's verdict would be pretty clear: Guilty as charged.

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Once a former page complained about receiving inappropriate e-mails from Foley, the committee says, "few of the individuals who ultimately came to participate in those events handled their roles in the manner that should be expected given the important and sensitive nature of the issues involved."

Specifically:

The report faults the office of Rep. Rodney Alexander for failing to provide the House clerk with copies of inappropriate e-mails Foley sent to a former Alexander page, saying that its refusal to provide the copies could not be supported by its claim of concern for the privacy of the former page involved -- especially since someone in Alexander's office had already given a copy of at least one of the e-mails to a newspaper reporter.

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The report says that Ted Van Der Meid, counsel for House Speaker Dennis Hastert, showed an "inexplicable lack of interest" in the Foley e-mails, particularly since Van Der Meid had been told about Foley's overfriendliness with pages previously and knew about allegations that Foley had once shown up drunk outside the pages' dorm in Washington.

The report says that the "weight of the evidence" supports the conclusion that both John Boehner and Tom Reynolds told Dennis Hastert about the Foley e-mails in the spring of 2006. Hastert, who has offered conflicting public reports about what he knew when, told the committee that he doesn't believe he heard anything about the Foley e-mails until around the time Foley resigned in September 2006.

The report faults both Boehner and Reynolds for failing to show "any curiosity" about allegations that a young page was made uncomfortable by e-mails from a member of Congress. It also notes that if indeed they talked with Hastert about the e-mails, they failed to ask him to do anything about them.

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While the report portrays former House Clerk Jeff Trandahl as one of the good guys in the Foley saga -- Trandahl complained early and often about Foley's close relationships with pages -- it says that he should have done more to obtain from Rodney Alexander's office a copy of the e-mail messages Foley sent to a former page.

The report does not take House Page Board chairman John Shimkus to task for handling the Foley affair without involving other members of the Page Board, but it does say that he should have taken the time to learn more about the allegations against Foley -- say, by obtaining a copy of the inappropriate e-mails in question -- before deciding to act without informing his colleagues on the board.

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The report criticizes, albeit gently, Republican Reps. Boehner, Shimkus, Alexander, Deborah Pryce, Eric Cantor and Roy Blunt for meeting, after the Foley affair had been referred to the House Ethics Committee, to compare stories about the case. (Reynolds, at least, had the good sense to conclude that it wouldn't be prudent to be involved in such a meeting.) It also criticizes members of Hastert's team for preparing and publishing a chronology of the case just as the news of it broke. While the committee says that it understands the "need in a political environment to respond quickly to perceived negative press reports," it says that the efforts at coordination and statement making could have hindered the committee's efforts to uncover witnesses' own individual recollections about events in the scandal.

All told, the report says, the committee was troubled by a "pattern of conduct" exhibited "by many individuals" who remained "willfully ignorant of the potential consequences of Rep. Foley's conduct with respect to House pages." "As a general matter," the report says, "the committee observed a disconcerting unwillingness to take responsibility for resolving issues regarding Rep. Foley's conduct ... Some relied on unreasonably fine distinctions regarding their defined responsibilities ... Almost no one followed up adequately on the limited actions they did take."


Tim Grieve

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

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