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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.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Did Rahm Emanuel lie about his knowledge of Mark Foley? Yes.

At the height of the Mark Foley scandal in October -- when Democrats were pounding Denny Hastert and company on a daily basis for having taken no action despite knowing about the emails sent by Foley to at least one page (and for lying about their past knowledge) -- Democratic Congressman (and DCCC Chair) Rahm Emanuel went on ABC's This Week with George Stephanopoulos (along with GOP Rep. Adam Putnam). I haven't been able to find a full transcript, but the full video is here, and this article provides an account of the segment.

All week long, Republicans had been insisting that the Foley scandal was a Democratic "dirty trick," speculating that Democrats -- specifically the DCCC of which Emanuel was the Chair -- were just as aware of the Foley e-mails as various GOP House Leaders were, and they accused Democrats (with no evidence) of being responsible for engineering the story.

Stephanopoulos explicitly asked Emanuel: "I just want to ask you plainly -- did you or your staff know anything about these emails or instant messages before they came out?"

Emanuel interrupted the question with an emphatic "no." Then, once Stephanopoulos was done with the question, this is what Emanuel replied: "George, never saw 'em . . . . "

After that answer, Putnam interjected this question: "Were you aware of them?" Emanuel replied: "Never saw them." A moment later, Stephanopoulos said to Emanuel: "So you were not aware of them, had no involvement?" Emanuel replied: "No. Never saw them. No involvement. . . ." Putnam again asked: "Was there an awareness?" Emanuel replied: "No. Never saw them. The first time I ever saw these things, right here was when Brian Ross broke the story."

When summarizing the reasons why he believed that the GOP House Leadership was guilty of poor judgment and a cover-up in the Foley scandal, this is what Emanuel said:


"As far back as 2002, 2003, there were warning signs . . . . What happened since that time? . . . . In 2005, he's appointed to head the Missing and Abused Children Caucus for the Congress. When he wants to retire, they ask him to run for re-election in 2006, even knowing -- clearly -- that there is something amiss and wrong here. The whole point here -- let's just take one analogy -- if a high school teacher was found doing this with a child, and the principal knew . . . the community and parents would have that principal and teacher out."

On Friday, the House Ethics Committee released its Report (.pdf) on this matter, and it was extremely critical of the Republican Leadership -- including just-elected GOP Minority Leader John Boehner -- for their "negligence" in failing to take steps to investigate Foley's conduct despite having ample signs that something was amiss (in particular, the e-mails Foley sent to pages).

But the Report also found that "the Communications Director for both the House Democratic Caucus and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee also had copies of the emails in the Fall of 2005" (p. 76). Specifically, the Report documented that back in October, 2005, the Communications Director for the House Democratic Caucus (Matt Miller) was sent copies of the Foley e-mails, and he was very disturbed by them.

Convinced that the GOP-led House Committees would take no meaningful action, Miller sent the e-mails to various newspapers in Florida (The Miami Herald and St. Petersburg Times), as well as Roll Call. He also provided copies of the e-mails to Bill Burton, the Communications Director of the DCCC (pp. 45-46).

It is now being reported by CNN that not only was the DCCC's Burton aware of the e-mails in 2005, but so, too, was Emanuel:

The head of the House Democrats' campaign committee, Rep. Rahm Emanuel, had heard of former Rep. Mark Foley's inappropriate e-mails to a former male page a year before they became public, a campaign committee aide told CNN. . . .

Emanuel's campaign committee aide said Friday that the Illinois Democrat was informed in 2005, but never saw the correspondence and did not have enough information to raise concerns. The aide said Emanuel took "no action" because his knowledge was "cursory" and little more than "rumor."

Did Rahm Emanuel explicitly and clearly lie during his October appearance on ABC?

Emanuel would likely say that he did not "lie," because each time he was asked whether he was "aware" of the e-mails -- which he plainly was -- he never denied being "aware" of them. Instead -- he would likely argue -- he changed the subject by denying that he ever "saw" the e-mails, a fact which appears (based on what we know) to be true (or at least not demonstrably false). Therefore, in the narrowest and most technical way, an argument could be constructed that Emanuel did not actually "lie" in his responses.

But that argument, ultimately, is nonsense. If you listen to the video, there is little doubt that Emanuel was lying in every meaningful sense of that word. He not only denied having "seen" the e-mails, but also interrupted Stephanapolous's first question about whether he was "aware" of the e-mails with an emphatic "no," and at least on one other occasion, denied not only having seen the e-mails, but also having been aware of them. Those denials were just outright false (i.e., "lies").

Independent of the question of whether Emaneul "technically lied" -- and far more important -- is the fact that Emanuel was clearly and deliberately misleading. Any reasonable person would have come away from that interview (as I know I did) with the strong impression that Emanuel was completely unaware of any e-mails sent by Foley to the pages, and that he had no reason to know anything was amiss with Foley until ABC broke the story.

In fact, Emanuel emphasized how inappropriate it was for Republican House Leadership to allow Foley, in 2005, to become the Chair of the Missing and Abused Children Caucus despite what Emanuel called the "warning signs" about Foley's behavior. But Emanuel was aware of at least some of these same "warning signs" in 2005, and he said nothing about them at the time. He was guilty of doing exactly what he was piously and indignantly accusing the GOP House Leaders of doing -- namely, knowing about the Foley e-mails to pages and taking no action.

None of this excuses or mitigates the conduct of the GOP House Leaders in the slightest. Nor does it vindicate the claim that this was some sort of "dirty trick" on the part of Democrats to sabotage GOP electoral chances. To the contrary, Miller, the House Democratic Caucus staffer, appears to have been genuinely disturbed by the emails and he took appropriate action -- he sent them to the media not in the weeks before the 2006 election, but all the way back in October, 2005, when he concluded (reasonably and, as it turns out, correctly) that the media was a far better vehicle for stopping Foley than the GOP-led House, which would protect Foley.

But what it does mean is that Emanuel was guilty of exactly what he was accusing the GOP House Leadership of. And his hypocritical, pious lectures about the "warning signs" which GOP Leaders had were dishonest at their core.

An entire essay can be written -- and probably should be -- about why things like this matter so much, but for the moment I will just make a couple of observations. I wrote a lot about the Foley scandal back in October and repeatedly argued that I thought that worse than the GOP House Leader's inaction was the obvious lies they were telling in order to protect themselves once the scandal was uncovered. For instance:

This scandal is not and has never been exclusively -- or even primarily -- about what GOP House leaders did in 2003 or 2005 regarding Mark Foley. That is a big part of the story, but bigger still is the blatant lies they have been telling ever since this scandal began.

And:

As much attention as has been devoted to what GOP House leaders did and did not do with regard to Foley, more attention needs to be paid to what is, in my view, the more important issue -- that ever since this scandal began, Hastert and the other key GOP figures at the center of the scandal, including Hastert's Chief of Staff, have blatantly lied repeatedly about what happened. And they still are.

But Emanuel was guilty of the same thing. Exactly the same thing. And he sat there on ABC and adopted this melodramatically concerned, earnest voice as he expressed righteous outrage that the GOP could let someone like Foley become the head of the "Missing and Abused Children Caucus" even though they had "warning signs" of Foley's conduct -- "warning signs" which Emanuel also had, even if not as many.

It's possible that the Democratic takeover of Congress can result in genuine and meaningful -- and desperately-needed -- change for our country. But it's also possible that it could result in nothing notable, that it will produce only the most marginal and politically risk-free actions, all justified by the need not to do anything too "extreme" due to a fear of harming their 2008 electoral prospects.

Which course Democrats take will be determined by whether they are guided by political figures committed to genuine change due to a conviction that such change is needed (even if that means incurring some political risks), or whether they are driven by cynical, exclusively political and dishonest Beltway operatives like Rahm Emanuel.

To compete with Republicans, Democrats need not only political idealists, but also calculating strategists who are devoted to winning. That's fair enough. But they also need to enforce some (at least) minimal ethical standards if they are to avoid becoming indistinguishable from the rotted and corrupt GOP tyrants who were just so deservedly tossed out of power. Rahm Emanuel seems to fall well below even those most minimal standards.

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