Hastert looking like the next man out

Saturday, October 07, 2006 at 04:43 PM

I've wondered for days now why so many Republicans jumped on Hastert at the start of the Foley mess.  Now I think I'm beginning to get it.

It looks more and more like Hastert knew Foley was a sexual harrasser for a hell of a long time, which probably means that the other Republicans knew that Hastert knew, and knew that the evidence trail was so solid that the truth couldn't help but come out.

So...when Foley hit the fire, the other Repubs--Reynolds, Boehner, etc.--knew Hastert was in the broiler and wanted to get on record early as saying "bye-bye Denny, don't let the door hit your butt too close to election day."

Based on what do I decide this?  Based on further revelations in today's Washington Post:

House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert's chief of staff confronted then-Rep. Mark Foley about his inappropriate social contact with male pages well before the speaker said aides in his office took any action, a current congressional staff member with personal knowledge of Foley and his behavior with pages said yesterday.

The staff member said Hastert's chief of staff, Scott Palmer, met with the Florida Republican at the Capitol to discuss complaints about Foley's behavior toward pages. The alleged meeting occurred long before Hastert says aides in his office dispatched Rep. John M. Shimkus (R-Ill.) and the clerk of the House in November 2005 to confront Foley about troubling e-mails he had sent to a Louisiana boy.

The staff member's account buttresses the position of Foley's onetime chief of staff, Kirk Fordham, who said earlier this week that he had appealed to Palmer in 2003 or earlier to intervene, after Fordham's own efforts to stop Foley's behavior had failed. Fordham said Foley and Palmer, one of the most powerful figures in the House of Representatives, met within days to discuss the allegations.

Palmer said this week that the meeting Fordham described "did not happen." Timothy J. Heaphy, Fordham's attorney, said yesterday that Fordham is prepared to testify under oath that he had arranged the meeting and that both Foley and Palmer told him the meeting had taken place. Fordham spent more than three hours with the FBI on Thursday, and Heaphy said that on Friday he contacted the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct to offer his client's cooperation.
Hastert spokesman Ron Bonjean declined to directly comment on the second House staff member's assertion, saying that it is a matter for a House ethics committee investigation. "The Standards Committee has asked that no one discuss this matter because of its ongoing investigation," Bonjean said.
Hastert's office contends that the first confrontation with Foley occurred in November 2005, when Shimkus, the head of the House Page Board, and then-House Clerk Jeff Trandahl took Foley aside to discuss what they termed "over-friendly" e-mails that Foley had sent to a Louisiana boy. Fordham's account not only pushed the matter back at least two years but also indicated that alarms over Foley's behavior had gone well beyond bland e-mails.

Sources close to Fordham say Trandahl repeatedly urged the longtime aide and close family friend to confront Foley about his inappropriate advances on pages. Each time, Foley pledged to no longer socialize with the teenagers, but, weeks later, Trandahl would again alert Fordham about more contacts. Out of frustration, the sources said, Fordham contacted Palmer, hoping that an intervention from such a powerful figure in the House would persuade Foley to stop.

Now, a second House aide familiar with Foley and his actions told The Washington Post yesterday that "Scott Palmer had spoken to Foley prior to November 2005." The aide spoke on the condition of anonymity because the matter is now the subject of a criminal investigation and the House ethics committee inquiry.
On Wednesday night, Palmer was described as highly emotional while aides sifted through e-mails and files to determine whether he had ever spoken to Fordham. Several people who spoke with Palmer said the chief of staff was emphatic in denying that he knew anything about Foley's questionable contacts with young male pages.

Palmer, who shares a townhouse with Hastert when they are in town, is more powerful than all but a few House members.
As House clerk between January 1999 and November 2005, Trandahl had direct control over the page program.
Trandahl's departure came within days of his confrontation with Foley over e-mails that the congressman had sent a former page. House aides say the circumstances of Trandahl's exit were oddly quiet. The departure of a staff member of long standing, especially one as important as the House clerk, is usually marked with considerable fanfare, said Scott Lilly, a former Democratic staff director of the House Appropriations Committee. Debate is suspended in mid-afternoon to accommodate a stream of testimonials from lawmakers.

Trandahl's departure was marked by a one-minute salute from Shimkus and a brief insert into the Congressional Record.
Trandahl, now the executive director of the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, has not returned repeated phone calls and e-mails.

Congressional aides point to another factor that links Trandahl to the Foley matter. A member of the board of the national gay rights group Human Rights Campaign, Trandahl is openly homosexual and personally close to the now-disgraced former lawmaker, who announced through his lawyer this week that he is gay.

So we have some pretty good evidence that Hastert knew long before he admits knowing.  We have credible claims that Fordham has long been concerned about Foley.  We have a House clerk who confronts Foley and soon disappears from the House in an unusally quiet departure.

I don't think Denny Hastert's coming week is going to be one bit better than his past week.  If he lasts that long.

My next question as we move closer to knowing what the hell happened is, "how many other Republican representatives and/or their aides knew about Foley's shenanigans, and/or about the attempts to stop them?"

As so often happens in these scandals, the never-ending attempts to cover up, to deny any facts not yet proven, is likely to drag this out as one fact after another emerges; making this the political gift that keeps on giving, one drip after another, pooling into headlines and lubricating the Democrats path to election day 2006.

And this isn't the only scandal likely to remain on the front pages through election day.  We have Ohio, where the trial of the lead figure in that state's "Coingate" is set for trial staring Tuesday.  But more on that later.