Only weeks ago, GOP campaign officials were breathing smoke and fire. According to Rep. Thomas M. Reynolds, R-N. Y., the chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, hapless Democrats had no idea what they were up against. Relentlessly negative TV commercials funded by the party's $ 50 million war chest were about to bury Democratic candidates under an avalanche of charges dug up by so-called opposition research - unpaid student loans, late tax payments, embarrassing lawsuits, etc. "We haven't even begun to unload this freight train," Reynolds boasted to The New York Times. Asked why the party that currently controls the White House and both houses of Congress wasn't stressing positive themes in its TV ads, he burst out laughing. "If they moved things to the extent that negative ads move things," he said, "there would be more of them." A few days later, Reynolds himself got run over by an off-schedule freight train in the form of the nastiest Washington sex scandal in decades. It's doubtful he's laughing now. Reynolds, see, is the guy who says he and Rep. John Boehner, ROhio, warned House Speaker Dennis Hastert last spring about Rep. Mark Foley's "overly friendly" e-mails to 16-yearold congressional pages.
The speaker recalls no such meeting.
Reynolds was alerted to the situation by his own chief of staff, one Kirk Fordham, who'd previously been Foley's chief of staff. Fordham, in turn, insists that he quit working for the very horny congressman after warning Hastert's staff "sometime in 2002 or 2003" about Foley's salacious e-mails to high school boys. Fordham says that Jeff Trandahl, the recently resigned clerk of the House, told him about a drunken late-night visit by Foley to the pages' dormitory.
Hastert's chief of staff, with whom the Illinois lawmaker shares a Washington townhouse, claims the meeting with Fordham never happened. Meanwhile, The Washington Post reported that Arizona Republican Rep. Jim Kolbe "personally confronted" Foley about sexually explicit e-mails as long ago as 2000.
GOP staffers have reportedly been warning Republican (but not Democratic ) pages to be leery of Foley since 2001.
Despite hearing, seeing and speaking no evil, Hastert has bravely accepted "full responsibility" - in Washington, the phrase is universally understood as a formulaic incantation signifying its exact opposite and magically absolving blame - and promised a vigorous investigation. The speaker also went on Rush Limbaugh's program to blame Democrats, with no evidence whatsoever, for leaking Foley's incriminating e-mails to the press. Apparently false, but so what if they had ?
But back to Reynolds. After warning Hastert (or not ) about the Florida congressman's unseemly interest in adolescent lads, what did the chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee do next ? Did he notify the police or the FBI ? Did he even contact the feckless sleuths on the House Ethics Committee ? Reynolds did none of those things. Instead, according to conservative columnist Bob Novak, he talked Foley out of retiring from Congress.
Then Reynolds accepted a $ 100, 000 contribution from Foley to the NRCC. Can you say "hush money" ? I knew you could.
Representing Palm Beach, Fla., one of the nation's wealthiest congressional districts - GOP propagandists Limbaugh and Ann Coulter own homes nearby - Foley had raised millions more in campaign contributions than he needed and donated it to the party. He was a GOP cash cow, plain and simple.
Back home in Buffalo, Reynolds' Democratic opponent has been running TV ads saying he "knew of the problem months ago, but he failed to act aggressively to protect the kids.... Reynolds not only failed to act, he actually urged the Florida congressman to run for office again, possibly putting more kids at risk."
According to a poll in the Buffalo News, Reynolds now trails Democrat Jack Davis by 15 points, 48 to 33 percent.
What makes this scandal a political godsend for Democrats, writes Glenn Greenwald on his "Unclaimed Territory" weblog, is that it's "like the Cliffs' Notes version of... how the Bush movement operates." Unlike, say, Republican hocuspocus on Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction, the ongoing catastrophe in Iraq, budgetary flim-flams and extreme negligence after Hurricane Katrina, it's about something simple and direct that everybody gets in his gut. It's all there: the elevation of money and power over all competing values, the transparent lies and evasions, grotesque attempts to blame the victims - the infamous Drudge Report and others claimed the pages led poor Foley on - and ludicrous demands that prominent Democrats take lie detector tests to prove they didn't blow the whistle. Some Republicans claim a homosexual conspiracy because several who tried to stop Foley's predatory behavior are openly gay. "There has been a virtual carousel... of one pathetic, desperate attempt after the next to deflect blame and demonize those who are pointing out the wrongdoing," Greenwald writes. "This is what [Republicans ] always do, on every issue. The difference here is that everyone can see it, and so nothing is working."