by Jonathan Singer, Thu Nov 02, 2006 at 10:51:45 AM EST
It's already fairly clear that House Republican leadership and top aides knew about and covered up for Mark Foley's inappropriate advances towards underage pages -- and as much, and perhaps more, will likely be confirmed whenever the ethics panel finally releases its report (after election day, of course). But now, in a rather important scoop, Ben Smith of the New York Daily News reports that one of the top House Republican spinmeisters went to work to try to defuse the Foley story before it was broken by ABC News.
Two senior aides to National Republican Campaign Committee Chairman Tom Reynolds participated in "damage control" conference calls concerning correspondence between Congressman Mark Foley and a former congressional page -- two days before the scandal became public, and earlier than previously reported.
NRCC Communications Director Carl Forti and Reynolds then chief-of-staff Kirk Fordham both took part in the first call the evening of Wednesday, September 27, and one call the next day, Forti and other sources familiar with the call confirmed. Forti's involvement and the NRCC's role in the run-up to the Foley scandal add another link between the disgraced former congressman and Reynolds, who has said he knew only indirectly of questionable emails, and that he reported them to his House superiors. They also reflect another moment at which House GOP leadership was aware of concerns about Foley and pages.
The conference call, described by a Hill staffer familiar with its contents as focused on "damage control," also included Foley's Florida-based political consultant, Richard Johnston, and his communications director, Jason Kello, according to two people familiar with the call. The participants were unaware of the explicit instant messages that would force Foley's resignation two days later.
Foley's aides were "seeking [Forti's] advice and keeping him abreast of" the ABCNews inquiry, said the Hill staffer.
This story puts more culpability on Reynolds than was previously there. Whereas before this development Reynolds may have been able to brush off allegations about the complicity of his office in the cover-up by blaming a rogue staffer who had previously worked for Foley, now a second of his closest aides, the communications director and chief spokesman for him at the NRCC, is directly implicated in the cover-up, indicating a pattern rather than an aberration.
There is now even less doubt that Republican leadership in the House actively participated in keeping information about Mark Foley's actions away from both the press and the American people -- a cover-up if there ever was one. For Reynolds, a continuation of the Foley scandal with particular focus on his actions and the actions of his staff can only serve to dampen his hopes at reelection this year. Likewise, for the House Republican caucus as a whole, another round of rehashing their role and seeming complicity in defending Foley from due scrutiny makes it that much more difficult to fire up what by most indications remains a depressed party base.