More Evidence of Republican Cover-Up of Foley Scandal

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.

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Ethics Committee Member in Trouble

Just saw on Breaking blue that Melissa Hart (R-PA) is in a tightening race.

She is also a member of the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, aka the Ethics Committee.

This diary speculates on what that could mean for the Foleygate investigation underway by the committee.

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AdWatch: Laesch Uses Reynolds' Words on Foley to Hammer Hastert

Fresh of off polling showing Speaker Denny Hastert barely cracking 50 percent in Illinois 14, Hastert's Democratic challenger John Laesch is going on the air with a powerful ad using the words of NRCC chairman Tom Reynolds to place blame on the Speaker for failing to act in the Mark Foley scandal.

The production quality isn't perfect, and it shouldn't be expected to be given the modest level of fundraising success achieved thus far by the Laesch campaign (though it should be noted that the flow of money has picked up in recent weeks, particularly through ActBlue). Yet the ad does make a strong argument -- using words from this ad from Reynolds -- that Hastert knew about Mark Foley but simply failed to act on it.

So while most Congress-watchers are still overlooking the race in Illinois 16, if Laesch is able to get this ad, and perhaps some others, on the air and keep it there from now until election day, polling on Hastert indicates that this might -- might -- be a race the Democrats can sneak away with come November 7.

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Dem Election Officials Go Above and Beyond Call of Duty... for GOP Candidate

From the Palm Beach Post's Michael C. Bender comes a report that elections officials in Florida 16, the district that until recently was represented by Mark Foley, have decided to post notices in all polling locations that a vote for Foley will go to Joe Negron, who the GOP appointed as their replacement nominee.

Elections supervisors in Florida's 16th Congressional District plan to post notices at polling places next month to inform voters of the change in Republican candidates as a result of U.S. Rep. Mark Foley's resignation.

Supervisors in seven of the district's eight counties agreed during a conference call to post notices at the registration tables of all polling locations to inform voters that ballots cast for Foley will count for Joe Negron.

The notice also will tell voters that a vote for Tim Mahoney, the Democratic candidate, will count for Mahoney and a vote for Emmie Ross, who is unaffiliated, will count for Ross.

[...]

Six of the supervisors are Democrats, including Anderson and Walker. Two are Republicans, including Davis.

Look, I don't think the Democrats should participate in the same time of elections shenanigans undertaken by Republicans in recent elections. Purposefully disenfranchising voters and purposefully failing to count some ballots is just plain bad for our democracy -- even if it should lead to an end that we would support, like progressive majorities in Congress.

But just the same, Democratic elections officials do not need to go out of their way to extend Republicans courtesies neither explicitly written in or intended by the law. Can anyone imagine Republicans doing the same for a Democratic candidate? It's almost unfathomable.

And while I don't believe that this move saves Florida 16 for the Republicans, it does make it that much easier for them to hold onto a seat that already has a moderate GOP registration and performace edge. So if the Democrats actually intend to play to win this year, they cannot continue to make it easier for Republican candidates in situations where it is not demanded by law.

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Why Hastert's Defense Won't Work

This week, House Speaker Denny Hastert once again held a press conference in an attempt to deflect criticism of the cover-up of the Mark Foley scandal within the House Republican leadership, this time blaming his staff for any malfeasance that occurred. President Bush joined in the action today, saying that Hastert has "done a fine job as Speaker, and when he stands up and says, I want to know the truth -- I believe yesterday he said that if somebody on his staff didn't tell him the truth, they're gone -- I respect that, and appreciate that, and believe him."The Washington Post's Jonathan Weisman follows up with an article in tomorrow's paper focusing directly on Hastert's staff.

With House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert denying personal knowledge of former representative Mark Foley's activities, investigators for the House ethics committee are bearing down on three senior members of Hastert's staff to determine when they learned of Foley's actions and whether they passed on their knowledge to the speaker.

The three -- chief of staff Scott Palmer, deputy chief of staff Mike Stokke and counsel Ted Van Der Meid -- have formed a palace guard around Hastert (R-Ill.) for years, attaining great degrees of power and unusual autonomy to deal with matters of politics, policy and House operations. They are also remarkably close. Palmer and Stokke have been with Hastert for decades. They live together in a Capitol Hill townhouse and commute back to Illinois on weekends.

It is that relationship that has made investigators so interested in their knowledge of Foley's contacts with teenage male congressional pages, especially allegations that his chief of staff personally appealed to Palmer in 2003 to confront the Florida Republican. Foley resigned Sept. 29 when news reports indicated he had sent electronic messages to a former page.

"It would be very hard to believe if Palmer knew that kind of detail, he wouldn't have acted upon it, and it's hard to imagine Scott Palmer would have spared the speaker that knowledge," said one former Republican leadership aide, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of jeopardizing his lobbying contacts.

It should come as no surpise that the two most powerful Republicans in Washington -- indeed two of the most powerful men in the world today -- would try to blame their staff for their own miscues. Accountability is an anathema to these men. But if Denny Hastert and George W. Bush believe that they will be able to defuse this still brewing scandal by saying all malfeasance was on the part of congressional staff, they are wrong. Dead wrong.

The American people are generally a forgiving people. Bill Clinton was forgiven for what was viewed at the time as moral transgressions. Even Ronald Reagan was forgiven for his role in the Iran-Contra scandal. But it was only after these two men showed real contrition -- or at least convinced most Americans that they were remorseful -- that Americans were willing to give them another chance.

Speaker Hastert has yet to do this, and it seems increasingly clear that he won't. Instead of indicating to voters that he was willing to bear any and all responsibility for his own actions and those of the staff under his leadership, Hastert instead merely said "the buck stops here" before proceeding to shift blame to his staff.

As a result of this reticence, the story seems destined to endure as the claims by the unnamed leadership staffer mentioned in the article above are considered by pundits and voters alike. Does anyone actually believe that the staff of the Speaker of the House would not inform him of a predator within the chamber? And if it is the case that Hastert's staff did not tell him about Foley's actions, do the Americans really want a Speaker who is so removed from what is going on in the House? I would have to imagine that the answer to both of these questions is no (just take a look at Hastert's underwhelming favorability numbers and polling showing two-thirds of Americans want him out as Speaker), and as such, Hastert will only continue to serve as a drag on Republican House candidates across the country.

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