Politics & Policy

Foley and His Friends

In the fall of 2005, a page for Republican congressman Rodney Alexander reported that Foley had been taking an inappropriate interest in him. Three congressmen oversee the page program; only one of them, Republican John Shimkus, was informed about the allegation. The Democrat, Dale Kildee, was kept out of the loop. In the spring, Alexander told Tom Reynolds, the head of the House Republicans’ campaign committee, about the matter. These moves make it sound as though political damage control, not the protection of the pages, was uppermost on some Republicans’ minds.

Shimkus took Foley’s word for it that he was merely trying to serve as a “mentor” for the boy. Speaker Dennis Hastert’s office, which learned about the overly friendly emails from Alexander, did not press for anything more to be done. Had a more thorough investigation been conducted, the Republicans would surely have found that Foley had been sending far more explicit instant messages to other minors. The Speaker’s office explains its conduct as a result of its “sensitivity to the parents’ wishes to protect their child’s privacy.” The complaining page’s family wanted only an end to the contact. But this isn’t a good excuse. Once the suspicion had been raised, Republicans owed it to all of the pages, and their families, to follow it where it led.

For that matter, is it really plausible that Foley had, in his long career, not done anything else to make his colleagues suspicious? The electronic trail does not exactly suggest that he has been discreet. Several pages have told reporters that in their circle, Foley’s proclivities were discussed. (Perhaps congressional investigators should have interviewed them earlier.) If it turns out that congressmen had heard or observed anything about Foley’s sexual interest in young men, the failure to perform a serious investigation months ago will be even harder to defend. It may also turn out that Democrats have something to answer for. If they knew that Foley was a danger to minors and withheld the information until it could be deployed for maximum political effect, then they failed in precisely the same moral duty to the pages and their families that the Republicans seem to have failed in.

Rep. Foley resigned his office when the story broke. Republican conduct since then has fallen rather short of a moral reckoning. Hastert, Reynolds, and Majority Leader John Boehner contradicted one another about who knew what when, with Hastert and Boehner amending their stories with “don’t recalls.” Tony Snow, the White House spokesman, blew off the issue: “There have been other scandals, as you know, that have been more than simply naughty emails.” To Snow’s credit, he later acknowledged that he should not have minimized the offense.

Now Hastert is calling for the Justice Department to investigate Foley. An investigation is overdue. It should focus on Foley, but also on those whose passivity may have enabled him.

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