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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

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?

Well, now, which is it?

In this evening's painstakingly prepared statement by Speaker Hastert's office on the Rep. Mark Foley matter, it is made to appear that the emails between Foley and the page were never passed on to GOP higher-ups by the page's sponsoring congressman, Rep. Rodney Alexander (R-LA), in deference to the page's family and their desire for privacy. But a report tonight from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch's Washington Bureau calls that account into serious question.

First, the relevant portion of the Hastert statement:

The Clerk asked to see the text of the email. Congressman Alexander's office declined citing the fact that the family wished to maintain as much privacy as possible and simply wanted the contact to stop. The Clerk asked if the email exchange was of a sexual nature and was assured it was not. Congressman Alexander's Chief of Staff characterized the email exchange as over-friendly.

The Clerk then contacted Congressman Shimkus, the Chairman of the Page Board to request an immediate meeting. It appears he also notified Van Der Meid that he had received the complaint and was taking action. This is entirely consistent with what he would normally expect to occur as he was the Speaker's Office liaison with the Clerk's Office.

The Clerk and Congressman Shimkus met and then immediately met with Foley to discuss the matter. They asked Foley about the email. Congressman Shimkus and the Clerk made it clear that to avoid even the appearance of impropriety and at the request of the parents, Congressman Foley was to immediately cease any communication with the young man.


Now, here's what the Post-Dispatch reports, from an interview today with the aforementioned Shimkus:

Last year, the House clerk grabbed Rep. John Shimkus off the floor during a vote and said they needed to talk.

It wasn’t unusual for the clerk at that time, Jeff Trandahl, to catch Shimkus, in the hallway or on the House floor, since together they oversaw the House page program and often had items to discuss.

This time, though, Trandahl had in his hand an email exchange between one of the House pages, a 16-year-old boy, and Rep. Mark Foley, R-Fla.

Shimkus, who serves as board chairman for the House page program, read the emails, in which Foley asked about the boy’s well-being in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, what he wanted for his birthday, and for a photograph. (The boy was from Louisiana and had returned to his home state.)

Although there was nothing sexually suggestive in the emails, Shimkus and Trandal agreed: "That was enough for us to approach Mark," Shimkus recalled an interview Saturday.

Soon after, they met with Foley and his chief of staff in the Florida congressman’s office. "We basically said, ‘We got these emails. And we don’t think this is appropriate. ... You have to stop (contacting this boy)’," Shimkus said.


Shimkus told the paper that he thinks he did the right thing given the information he had at the time, though he regrets not having involved his Democratic colleague on the board overseeing the page program. "If I regret something maybe I should have had Dale (Kildee, a Democratic board member and congressmen from Michigan) with me because now it’s going to be a political football."

On Friday night, the Post-Dispatch reports, Shimkus met with the pages currently in the program. Just days after "reading them the riot act" about behaving in the program, he told them: "I’m embarrassed I’m ashamed. This lecture I gave you I should give to my colleagues."

Earlier, Josh posted on NRCC chair Tom Reynolds' statement that he had told Speaker Hastert about the Mark Foley situation in early 2006. Why is Reynolds throwing Denny from the train?

Republican insiders said Reynolds spoke out because he was angry that Hastert appeared willing to let him take the blame for the party leadership's silence.

A House GOP leadership aide, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of losing his job, said that Reynolds realizes he has taken a shot at his leader but that it is understandable.

"This is what happens when one member tries to throw another member under a bus," the aide said.


Indeed. When one GOP congressman tries to damage another politically, it's time to speak out. But when a GOP congressman tries to proposition an underage page? Silence is the better part of what passes for GOP valor these days.

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