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David Kurtz

David Kurtz is Managing Editor and Washington Bureau Chief of Talking Points Memo where he oversees the news operations of TPM and its sister sites.

Articles by David

Let me touch on one aspect of the Foley scandal that a lot of readers have been emailing about--Foley's financial contributions to the NRCC.

The role of NRCC chair Rep. Tom Reynolds (R-NY) in the scandal is important. Rep. Rodney Alexander (R-LA) told Reynolds about the page emails from Foley, and Reynolds says he talked to Hastert about it. As head of the NRCC, which is charged with getting Republicans elected to Congress, Reynolds does seem like a strange choice of people for Alexander to alert. Add in the fact that Reynolds' chief of staff used to be chief of staff for Foley, and the connections deepen.

But there is also a campaign finance connection between Reynolds and Foley. Foley was a big contributor to the NRCC. We got a tip on this yesterday, and after looking into it, concluded that while Foley's campaign committee has given significant sums to the NRCC in the last 2-3 years, the amount involved is what you would expect veteran GOPers like Foley to be contributing. By themselves, Foley's donations don't stand out.

Let me explain.

Foley has given more than $300,000 to the NRCC in the past two years or so. He gave another $15,000 the year before that. You'll see that $100,000 of those contributions came in one donation from Foley this past July.

No question that's a significant amount of money. But in the 2004 election cycle it doesn't place Foley among the top 20 contributors to the NRCC. Most of that list consists of Republican congressmen other than Foley. The July donation just barely qualifies Foley as top 20 contributor to the NRCC in the 2006 cycle.

The other thing to note is that senior members of the House GOP caucus, including committee chairmen, are required by the GOP, at least implicitly, to meet certain fundraising thresholds for the NRCC in order to maintain their committee positions. This is especiallly true of those who occupy safe seats, like Foley did.

Foley was not THE go-to guy for the NRCC. He was one of many go-to guys. That's not to say campaign cash didn't play a role in the kid gloves treatment Foley received from the GOP leadership. It's just that those campaign contributions alone don't add up to that conclusion.

A reader asks, why not call Rep. Mark Foley a pedophile based on what we now know? Glenn Greenwald offers an explanation:

For now, I will just note what seems to be the bizarre and incoherent contradiction in the law, noted by Atrios yesterday, that in-person, actual sex between Foley and a 16-year-old page would be perfectly legal in D.C. and in most places in the U.S., but it seems that it is a criminal act for Foley to discuss or solicit sexual acts with the same page over the Internet. Despite all the irritatingly righteous (and overheated) "pedophile" language being tossed around, in the overwhelming majority of states, and in Washington DC, the legal age of consent for sex is 16 years old. That means that actual, in-person sex between Foley and a 16-year-old page in D.C. would not be criminal at all (though it likely could have other legal implications).

But under the so-called "Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006" (of which Foley was a co-sponsor), along with 18 U.S.C. 2251, discussion or solicitation of sexual acts between Foley and any "minor" under the age of 18 would appear to be a criminal offense (see Adam Walsh Act, Sec. 111(14) ("MINOR.--The term 'minor' means an individual who has not attained the age of 18 years") and 18 U.S.C. Sec. 2256 (1) (“'minor' means any person under the age of eighteen years").

But those are just the criminal aspects. It goes without saying that having a predatory Congressman sexually solicit teenage Congressional pages is a serious problem and the House leadership had a responsibility to act when they learned about it. And here, they clearly appear not to have taken action due to the political desire to protect Foley's seat.

The Rep. Mark Foley M.O.: wait until after pages returned home to contact them?

TPM Reader JA asks: "If the GOP can't even keep a bunch of 15 year olds safe, how can they keep America safe?"

From the AP (emphasis mine):

White House aide Dan Bartlett said the allegations against Foley were shocking and that President Bush had not been informed previously about the e-mails. Bartlett said there was no need for an independent outside investigation.

"The leadership appear to be very aggressive in pursuing this investigation," he said. "I think that's the best place for this investigation to go forward."

House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., said at first he had learned only last week about the e-mails Foley sent to a page. Hastert later acknowledged that aides referred the matter to the authorities last fall.


First off, this White House wouldn't know an aggressive investigation if it slapped it upside the head with a subpoena.

That being said, what about Hastert aides referring the matter to "authorities"? That makes it sound as if law enforcement were notified, but in the context of the piece, the AP apparently only means that Hastert's office sent the matter over to the page program board. That leaves the completely inaccurate impression that somehow Hastert doesn't have oversight over the whole dang operation. He is the Speaker of the House! He IS the authority. Mr. Magoo indeed.

More on that Palm Beach Post article from yesterday. It has been reported elsewhere that the chief of staff to Rep. Tom Reynolds (R-NY) used to be a staffer for Rep. Mark Foley (R-FL). Reynolds, you will recall, heads up the NRCC and one was of the GOP leaders who knew about the emails from Foley to the congressional page.

The Palm Beach Post reports that the staffer has been very involved in recent days:

Kirk Fordham, who worked as Foley's chief of staff for 10 years, returned to Foley's side to advise him during the past couple of days.

"He has the ability to look forward and see how things play out," Fordham said. "He wanted to do what was right for his family and for his district."


I don't necessarily fault Fordham for his loyalty, but it is a little odd that the head of the NRCC would loan out his chief of staff to the disgraced former congressman in the midst of what is shaping up as a political crisis for the GOP.

A reader points us to an article in yesterday's Palm Beach Post:

Congressional staff members who asked not to be identified said it was widely known among Hill staffers and some House leaders that Foley had been engaging in inappropriate conduct and language with young aides.

One highly placed staff member said Foley's abrupt resignation may have been demanded by Republican leaders who have been aware for some time about allegations of inappropriate behavior.


It's not clear to me from this piece whether the reference to "Hill staffers and some House leaders" is a broader circle than the one we already know about. Stay tuned . . .

The St. Petersburg Times explains why it didn't run with the Rep. Mark Foley story last fall. An excerpt:

[W]hat 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.


That's a judgment call, and one that could go either way. Other news outlets apparently made the same call. Go read the whole explanation and decide for yourself. But in the course of explaining the decision, the editor writes:

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 the teen to send him a "pic" of himself.


I don't know how you can read those emails and come to such an innocuous conclusion. Now in fairness to the paper they put two reporters on the story before deciding they didn't have enough to publish. So maybe the editor didn't consider it all that innocuous either.

The one thing the editor doesn't describe the paper trying to do was talk to anyone overseeing the congressional page program. Given the leadership's track record, a call from reporters might not have gotten much of a response. But given that we're talking about minors here, it seems like a call that should have been made. Which makes me wonder--did any news outlets contact the page program when these emails started surfacing last fall? Anyone get a response?

This just gets better and better.

Last night we posted about an interview that Rep. John Shimkus (R-IL), chairman of the board which oversees the congressional page program, gave yesterday to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. In the interview, Shimkus said that both he and the Clerk of the House saw the actual emails sent by Rep. Mark Foley (R-FL) to a congressional page when they conducted their "investigation" of Foley last fall.

That contradicts the official version of events put out late yesterday by his fellow Illinoisan, Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert, whose internal investigation found that Rep. Rodney Alexander (R-LA) declined to provide the emails in question out of respect for the page and his family, who desired privacy.

Still with me? It's about to require a flow chart to keep this all straight.

While Shimkus is telling the St. Louis paper that, yes, he saw the emails, his spokeman is telling another local paper that, no, he didn't (emphasis is mine):

Shimkus was unavailable for comment, but through his spokesman, Steve Tomaszewski, he acknowledged speaking to Foley last year after being notified about one of the e-mails that Foley had sent to a page assigned to the office of a Louisiana congressman.

Shimkus "did not see personally any e-mail a year ago when he dealt with the issue," Tomaszewski said. "He was only told of the one e-mail that came out first, which references, 'How are you doing after the hurricane?' and, 'Send me a picture.'"


Got that?

Hastert's internal investigation says Shimkus never saw the emails. Shimkus says he did. Shimkus' spokesman says he didn't.

Whew, glad we got that cleared up.

Former House Majority Leader Tom Delay was known for--indeed prided himself and built his power upon--his encyclopedic knowledge of the House GOP caucus: members' likes and dislikes, their personal and political strengths and weaknesses, their pressure points.

Delay was Majority Leader until February 2006. So when the emails between Rep. Mark Foley (R-FL) and a congressional page first came to the attention of the House leadership last fall, Delay was still majority leader. (Ironically, Delay's successor as majority leader, Rep. John Boehner (R-OH), came to Congress as a result of a sex-with-a-minor scandal involving the then-incumbent Buz Lukens, whom Boehner defeated in the GOP primary in 1990.) So what did Delay know, and when?

Now the broad version of events being put out by Hastert and Company is that this all came to their attention when Rep. Rodney Alexander (R-LA) brought the concerns of the page and his family to the leadership. No one can get their story straight about what happened after that, but that is the starting point for the story, or so we are told.

But if Foley already had a "reputation" among congressional pages, you can bet his reputation extended to staffers and probably to congressmen themselves. One thing that seems to be missing from the GOP reaction is shock or surprise. Maybe I've simply overlooked them, but I haven't seen any quotes along the lines of what you usually expect when something like this breaks: the befuddled reactions of those who knew the alleged perpetrator but had no idea he was even capable of what he is being accused of. I'm thinking of those standard quotes from serial killers' neighbors: he was quiet, kept to himself, seemed completely normal.

It's a small world up there on the Hill, and you just don't get the sense that this is a bolt from the blue. I'd be surprised if some reporters didn't already have the low-down on Foley's "over-friendly" ways.

The peccadilloes of congressmen is the black market currency on the Hill. Gossip is golden. And Tom Delay was the leading broker. So what did he know and when?

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