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.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

GOP House leaders speak out against Internet predators

(updated below - updated again re: Denny Hastert's statement - updated again)

As noted in the post below, one of the laws which Mark Foley appears to have violated is the so-called "Adam Walsh Child Protection Act of 2006" which, among other things, increases penalties for adults who use the Internet to discuss or solicit sexual acts with "minors" (defined as an "individual who has not attained the age of 18 years"). GOP leaders hailed this law as a vital tool in protecting our nation's children against Internet predators:

Denny Hastert, who said the Act was critical in "preventing child exploitation, stopping child pornography and creating new criminal offense penalties protecting children from the Internet," proclaimed:

"At home, we put the security of our children first and Republicans are doing just that in our nation’s House. We’ve all seen the disturbing headlines about sex offenders and crimes against children. These crimes cannot persist. Protecting our children from Internet predators and child exploitation enterprises are just as high a priority as securing our border from terrorists. . . That’s why today we passed the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006.”

Majority Leader John Boehner similarly intoned in referring to passage of the Act:

House Republicans have a record of working to strengthen our communities and protect American values. So far this year, House Republicans have approved legislation that protects our children from Internet predators and violent criminal offenders; improves communications capabilities of first responders and emergency personnel; and guarantees Americans’ freedom to display the American flag and recite the Pledge of Allegiance.

As much as anything else, that is what this scandal is about -- GOP House Leaders prancing around as the Protectors of our nation's children from Internet Predators while, at the same time, apparently knowing that there was such a predator in their midst. And they not only failed to do anything about it, but they actively worked to conceal the behavior (by, as noted below, ensuring that all Democrats -- including even the Democrat on the House Page Board -- were blocked from learning about these accusations). As Hastert put it at the top of his Press Release (emphasis in original): “At home we put children first, and Republicans are doing just that in the House.”

UPDATE: From George W. Bush, President of the United States, when he signed the Act into law:

And the bill I sign today will strengthen federal laws to protect our children from sexual and other violent crimes, will help prevent child pornography, and will make the Internet safer for our sons and daughters. . . .

Protecting our children is our solemn responsibility. It's what we must do. When a child's life or innocence is taken it is a terrible loss -- it's an act of unforgivable cruelty. Our society has a duty to protect our children from exploitation and danger. By enacting this law we're sending a clear message across the country: those who prey on our children will be caught, prosecuted and punished to the fullest extent of the law.

Republicans decided in this bill that the "minors" we have to protect from predatory behavior on the Internet means anyone under the age of 18 years. Yet self-evidently lurid and sexually suggestive emails sent by a leading GOP Congressman to a 16-year-old page certainly didn't seem to move them to do very much -- other than work to conceal the behavior so that the predator could remain in Congress, surrounded by other vulnerable American children sent to Washington, D.C. by their parents.

UPDATE II: As Renato notes in Comments, isn't it about time for Glenn Reynolds, Michael Barnone, Fred Barnes and all of the objective-independent-two-sided media political pundits to start explaining how this scandal hurts the Democrats and how it's a win-win for Republicans? Somehow, I'm absolutely sure it's the case that this scandal presents Democrats with the terrible dilemma of having to satisfy their rabid left-wing base without alienating the normal Americans who will naturally side with the Republicans here. How that works in this case will undoubtedly be explained to us very shortly. Check here and here for updates.

UPDATE III: One of the strangest and most incriminating aspects of this story is the excuse being proffered by the GOP House Protectors of Children that they didn't do anything about Foley because the parents of the page with whom he exchanged the emails didn't want it pursued. For one thing, as Josh Marshall notes, the fact that they wanted to investigate further but didn't because of the parents' wishes by itself proves that the knew there was something to investigate. Why didn't they investigate further: talk to other pages, determine -- as seems to have been the case -- whether there were rumors around that Foley had engaged in predatory behavior repeatedly rather than in just one case? There were plenty of steps they could have and should have taken to investigate.

Moreover, the fact that the parents of this one page did not want to pursue the issue further is hardly a reason for GOP House leaders to do nothing. As former prosecutor Christy Hardin Smith rightly points out, by doing nothing, they knowingly endangered all of the other pages in Congress. Their responsibility here was to the other children who serve as pages as well as to the one page in question. By doing nothing -- even failing to investigate meaningfully -- they endangered the welfare of every child-page on the Hill. What justifies that? As Denny Hastert said: "At home, we put the security of our children first and Republicans are doing just that in our nation’s House."

UPDATE IV: Josh Marshall has the statement released by Denny Hastert. I think Hastert is in a lot of trouble here. First, John Boehner said he told Hastert about Foley, then Boehner changed his story, and Hastert's office flatly denied Hastert knew. But today, Tom Reynolds emphatically said that he also told Hastert about this months ago, directly contradicting Hastert's denials.

With regard to Hastert's story, ask yourselves these questions: (1) even if everything happened the way Hastert claims, does that sound more like an attempt to "investigate" Foley's wrongdoing or cover it up?; (2) given that several high-ranking members of Hastert's staff were coordinating the handling of the page's complaint about Foley, is it even remotely possible that Hastert didn't learn of this -- wouldn't complaints about a GOP Congressman's conduct regarding a Congressional page be something they would tell Hastert?; (3) Hastert says he has no reason to doubt Reynolds' claim that he spoke to Hastert about this, but Hastert just doesn't recall that. If Rep. Reynolds told Hastert that a Congressional page and his parents complained about Foley's behavior and insisted that he not contact the page again, isn't that something Hastert would remember?

Then there is this statement from Rep. Dale Kildee, the Democratic member of the House Page Board, who says: "any statement by Mr. Reynolds or anyone else that the House Page Board ever investigated Mr. Foley is completely untrue. I was never informed of the allegations about Mr. Foley's inappropriate communications with a House Page and I was never involved in any inquiry into this matter."

That remains the most incriminating fact in my view -- they purposely excluded the Democratic member of the Board from knowing about these accusations to ensure that the accusations would remain concealed and un-investigated.

UPDATE V: In comments, along points out the competitor for the title of Most Incriminating Fact -- that Hastert's statement claims that the Clerk of the House Board and Hastert's office "investigated" Foley's conduct without even insisting on seeing the emails that Foley sent. What kind of an "investigation" could possibly be conducted into Foley's conduct towards the page without seeing the e-mails he sent? That would be the absolute starting point for any real investigation. The fact that they concluded their "investigation" without even seeing any of the e-mails tells you all you need to do about what they were really trying to accomplish here.

UPDATE VI: The New York Times has finally realized the significance of this story, as they now have an above-the-fold, detailed article on the cover-up aspects. And the Times reporters aren't the only ones starting to appreciate the major damage this story can wreak:

Anyone who was involved in the chain of information should come forward and tell when they were told, what they were told and what they did with the information when they got it,” said Representative Peter T. King, Republican of New York. Mr. King called it a “dark day” for Congress and said, “We need a full investigation.”

Representative Christopher Shays, Republican of Connecticut, said any leader who had been aware of Mr. Foley’s behavior and failed to take action should step down. “If they knew or should have known the extent of this problem, they should not serve in leadership,” Mr. Shays said.

Hastert, Reynolds, and Boehner all knew about Foley's problems with this page and effectively did nothing even to investigate, let alone take any action (other than to ensure that the whole thing would be covered up). It is difficult to see how the consequences here can be confined just to Foley, and that's something that is likely dawning even on House Republicans.

UPDATE VII: It will be a real challenge for the hard-core GOP loyalists to defend Hastert's truly indefensible behavior here. From Captain Ed:

As if it wasn't bad enough that John Boehner knew about Foley's track record of sexual harassment of his underage pages, now it turns out that Speaker Denny Hastert lied about what he knew and when he knew it. . . .

I cannot tell CQ readers how disgusted I am with Speaker Hastert. Reynolds is no fringe nutcase; he's the man Hastert trusted to run the midterm re-elections of the Republican caucus. He has no reason to lie, but Hastert apparently did. This also calls into question Boehner's earlier reversal, when he denied saying that he informed Hastert after Hastert denied knowing of Foley's activities.

Republicans have to act swiftly to remove the stench of Foleygate from the party. They need to demand the resignation of Hastert as Speaker, as well as Boehner as Majority Leader if he lied to protect Hastert.

It's hard to argue with that. If for no other reason than to try to save themselves (or, as in Ed's case, because they are genuinely disgusted with the behavior of these political figures), I think we're going to be hearing a lot more of this from Republicans in the coming days. The bulk of the GOP House leadership is implicated here.

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