Hastert and the Foley Scandal

Ever since yesterday’s shock revelations, it seemed like news like this would come out as the underlying bad act behind Denny Hastert’s public downfall. Because of that, the almost decade old Mark Foley scandal has rushed back into the minds of everyone who covered that story at the time. To review, if you weren’t around at the time, in the death throes of the old Republican majority, in September 2006 it emerged that Congressman Mark Foley had had sexual interactions with male members of the Congressional page program, i.e., high school age students. Foley was not out as a gay man; though I think it was widely known or at least assumed that he was gay.

The story spun out of control because it quickly came out that the House leadership, with Hastert at the very top, had been at best sluggish in addressing warnings about Foley’s conduct.

There had been a lot of warnings, some only suggestive, some a matter of other members of the House going to the Speaker’s office with their concerns. In the hothouse environment of the impending election in which it seemed more than likely, though by no means certain, that Republicans would lose their majority it became a full-blown media-political circus. Foley eventually resigned and went back to his life in Florida.

Hastert, through the entire drama, was awkward and slow to react or be clear or particularly convincing about what was known.

We don’t have any convictions yet. Indeed, any statute of limitations has almost certainly lapsed. So we can’t be certain of anything and we have few details. But it seems clear that Hastert himself had enough of a history of sexual abuse (though we don’t know the ages yet) that he was willing to pay $3.5 million to keep it covered up.

Adding this fact puts the whole Foley scandal in a dramatically different light – at least at the level of irony and perhaps more.

Looking back, it is hard to believe Hastert didn’t go through the weeks of the Foley scandal something like petrified that his own history would be kicked up in the storm of the Foley revelations. Indeed, this new information might explain his own awkward and oddly tentative response.

Set aside whether this past had any role in Hastert’s office’s laggard response to warnings about Foley. Hastert was hiding an explosive secret. He must have been terrified of exposure. A thundering denunciation of Foley would seem like the kind of move which almost would have invited a past victim to step forward. Perhaps that explains his reticence. At this point there’s no way to know.

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