— Special to First Read from National Journal's The Hotline
It's been a long 48 hours for the House Republican leadership. It all started when the media began reporting on the inappropriate email and instant message exchanges between now-ex-Rep. Mark Foley (R-FL) and an underage teenager..... The timeline of what Speaker Dennis Hastert knew and when he knew it, has seemed to change throughout the last 48 hours. Late 9/30 p.m., the Speaker's office released a fairly detailed explanation of when Speaker's office first learned of the complaint. But the explanation doesn't answer every question.
For instance, clearly, Foley's actions raised enough alarm bells that a number of investigating actions were started late last year and in early spring. In addition, ABC News reports that the 16-year-old page had been warned to watch out for Foley, suggesting that the congressman's behavior was an open secret among the folks that ran the page program. If this is true, it implies Foley's behavior was more systematic and known..... What isn't clear is why no one other than the clerk of the House and GOP Rep. John Shimkus (R-IL), the member in charge of the Page program, directly spoke with Foley.
More importantly, and this question may decide whether Republicans retain control of the House, how thorough was the investigation conducted by the clerk and Shimkus? What exactly did that "investigation" discover and/or conclude? It only took ABC News about a day to go from knowing nothing to knowing, well, too much about the contact Foley had with underage pages.....
Read carefully the details Hastert's office released regarding how they investigated the allegation. Is it really the regular practice of the House GOP leadership staff to keep the Speaker out of the loop when it comes to questionable conduct by Members?
Hastert is notoriously slow when encouraging a wounded member of his party to get going. From Tom DeLay to Bob Ney, Hastert never seems willing to push members into what needs to be done.....
It's important to note that when the House GOP leadership first apparently learned of something amiss with Foley and a page, the GOP leadership team was in flux..... Did the House GOP leadership vacuum that was created by DeLay's departure lead to a situation where no one was calling the political shots? And did that sense of chaos create anxiety, preventing Republicans from taking the steps necessary to protect these underage pages?
No doubt, every member of the House GOP leadership that knew of this Foley problem before this week regrets not pursuing a more thorough investigation. But isn't the argument Democrats will now make when reviving the "culture of corruption" tagline (or even a "culture of arrogance of power" tagline) is that the House GOP leadership just doesn't have the capacity or the intellectual curiosity to investigate questionable activity, whether it involves a member of their own caucus or more serious public policy concerns like the war in Iraq?