I was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator and am now a journalist. I am the author of three New York Times bestselling books -- "How Would a Patriot Act" (a critique of Bush executive power theories), "Tragic Legacy" (documenting the Bush legacy), and With Liberty and Justice for Some (critiquing America's two-tiered justice system and the collapse of the rule of law for its political and financial elites). My fifth book - No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA and the US Surveillance State - will be released on April 29, 2014 by Holt/Metropolitan.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

How many days does Denny Hastert have left?

(updated below - updated multiple time (Updates I-IV) - Update V)

Deciphering the Foley scandal events of the last few hours is a virtually impossible task, because all of the key players are contradicting one another (as well as their own earlier pronouncements) at a rate so fast and furious that it is difficult to keep track. What had been the huge news just hours ago -- the resignation (or termination, depending on whom you ask) of Tom Reynolds' Chief of Staff, Kirk Fordham -- now seems like old news. The only fact that emerges clearly is that the scandal grew a lot bigger today, and a lot worse for Republicans (UPDATE - things are much clearer now - see Update V below).

It is very difficult to see how Speaker Hastert expects to survive this Associated Press report, the latest significant revelation of today (though there will likely be a new one before I am done writing this post):

A senior congressional aide said Wednesday that he alerted House Speaker Dennis Hastert's office two years ago about worrisome conduct by former Rep. Mark Foley with teenage pages.

Kirk Fordham told The Associated Press that when he was told about Foley's inappropriate behavior toward pages, he had "more than one conversation with senior staff at the highest level of the House of Representatives asking them to intervene."

The conversations took place long before the e-mail scandal broke, Fordham said, and at least a year earlier than members of the House GOP leadership have acknowledged.

That is evidence of (a) more information about Foley's proclivities directly in Hastert's lap and, worse, knowledge by Hastert far earlier than has been known before, and (b) more post-disclosure lies from Hastert about whether he had received any reports at all about Foley. All of that is on top of earlier reports from today that Rep. Alexander became the third Congressman -- after Boehner and Reynolds -- to insist that Hastert knew about the Foley e-mails, a fact which Hastert first vigorously denied, only thereafter -- once these reports of his knowledge starting sprouting -- to claim he could not recall being told.

I will have more posted on all of this very shortly. But with so many different sources, on the record, insisting that they told Hastert about Foley, and with more and more evidence that Foley's behavior was an "open secret" -- one which not only reached Hastert, but reached him far earlier than previously reported, how many days can Denny Hastert possibly have left? And what bigger favor could Republicans do for Democrats than continue to insist that he not resign?

And then there is House Majority Whip Roy Blunt, who smells a level or two of a promotion: "House Majority Whip Roy Blunt said Wednesday he would have advised his congressional colleagues to ask more questions if he had been told earlier about former Rep. Mark Foley's electronic communications with underage male pages."

UPDATE: According to a red box at the top of ABC News's website, Hastert has already denied the Fordham report. Then again, he denied having ever heard about Foley from Boehner, Reynolds, and Alexander, too.

UPDATE II: CNN now says that Rep. Alexander, after revealing today that he talked to Hastert about Foley, "quickly backed off that comment, saying he discussed the e-mails with Hastert's aides, not the speaker himself. 'I guess that's a poor choice of words that I made there,' he told AP." There seems to be a lot of that going around.

UPDATE III: I apologize for sticking this in here, but I already have several e-mails about it and I don't intend to write a post on it today. The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals has granted the motion of the Justice Department in the ACLU v. NSA case which stays -- pending resolution of the DOJ's appeal -- the Order issued by Judge Taylor. Judge Taylor's Order previously enjoined continuation of the warrantless surveillance program. The Sixth Circuit said, in essence, that the Bush administration could have the opportunity to appeal the decision before being required to comply.

That is a routine and completely expected ruling (as I, and most others, said would almost certainly occur). It was very surprising in the first place that Judge Taylor wouldn't stay her Order on a matter of such significance, and it would have been not just surprising, but shocking, had the Sixth Circuit refused a motion for a stay.

UPDATE IV: According to The Washington Post, at least one Republican Congressman would prefer that Hastert stay away from his campaign events:

Kirk Fordham made his comments to The Associated Press in an interview as a Kentucky Republican canceled a campaign fundraising event with Hastert. Rep. Ron Lewis said he wants to know the facts behind a scandal that has roiled Republicans since last week.

The Post added, with marked understatement: "Taken together, the comments by Fordham and the actions by Lewis added to the political uncertainty surrounding Hastert and fellow Republicans five weeks before midterm elections in which their control of the House will be tested." The Post also said that the reports Fordham said he gave regarding Foley were delivered "more than three years ago, long before officials have acknowledged becoming aware of the issue." Things seem to be going poorly for the House Republicans today -- again.

UPDATE V: Things are much clearer now. When Kirk Fordham first announced his resignation today, he issued a statement which was very pro-House-Leadership, going so far as to blame the Democrats for his resignation and even claiming that he was resigning in order to protect his "boss," Tom Reynolds. That statement evinced no desire to say anything harmful about the House Republicans. Quite the contrary.

But then, Fordham caught wind of the fact that once he resigned, the House Leadership got very busy, very quickly, trying to scapegoat Fordham for the whole Foley scandal:

Those sources said Fordham, a former chief of staff for Congressman Mark Foley, had urged Republican leaders last spring not to raise questionable Foley e-mails with the full Congressional Page Board, made up of two Republicans and a Democrat.

"He begged them not to tell the page board," said one of the Republican sources.

Just like every other move they have made since this scandal began, the attack on Fordham backfired --- horribly -- and it caused Fordham to issue a second, decisively less friendly statement:

"I've learned within the last few hours that unnamed sources have purported that I intervened on behalf of Congressman Foley to prevent a page board investigation. This is categorically false. At no point--ever--did I ask anyone to block any inquiries into Foley's actions or behavior.

These sources know this allegation is false. . .

The fact is, even prior to the existence of the Foley email exchanges I had more than one conversation with senior staff at the highest levels of the House of Representatives asking them to intervene when I was informed of Mr. Foley's inappropriate behavior. One of these staffers is still employed by a Senior House Republican Leader.

Rather than trying to shift the blame on me, those who are employed by these House Leaders should acknowledge what they know about their action or inaction in response to the information they knew about Mr. Foley prior to 2005."

Fordham is one of the key figures in this scandal. And when he resigned, he was ready to help them -- or at least not hurt them. But then they attacked him even before he was out of the door. So then he told the truth. And, for good measure, he warned them to do so, too:

Having stepped down as Mr. Reynolds chief of staff, I have no reason to state anything other than the facts. I have no Congressman and no office to protect.

I intend to fully cooperate with any and every investigation of Mr. Foley's conduct. At the same time, I will fully disclose to the FBI and the House Ethics Committee any and all meetings and phone calls I had with senior staffers in the House Leadership about any of Foley's inappropriate activities.

Basically, within a matter of hours, the GOP House Republicans turned Kirk Fordham from an ally (or, at worse, a party willing to remain silent) into their worst nightmare -- the John Dean of the Foley scandal.

If you were a person rooting for this scandal to bring down the GOP House Leadership (and I'm not saying such a person exists; I'm speaking hypothetically), and you had the power to create one event to happen today, the Fordham resignation, followed by his subsequent accusations, would have to be very high on the list, if not right at the very top.


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