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, October 01, 2006

John Hinderaker's defense of Denny Hastert

(updated below - updated repeatedly - watch this ABC News report from tonight)

There are numerous intellectually honest conservatives who are viciously criticizing Denny Hastert and even demanding his resignation for his role in covering-up Mark Foley's predatory conduct and then lying about it once the story broke. And there are also some generally rational though deeply misguided defenses of Hastert being mounted elsewhere by some Bush followers. And then -- in a category of its own -- there is this defense of Hastert, promoted by Instapundit, and authored by John Hinderaker.

After reviewing the fact that Hastert was told months ago about the e-mails sent by Foley to the 16-year-old page (a fact which Hastert first categorically denied and -- after Reps. Reynolds and Boehner both said they told Hastert -- he now claims not to recall), Hinderaker offers this defense of Hastert:

I've never been Speaker of the House, but I can imagine that such a conversation would not be among the most significant Hastert has had in the last year, and would not necessarily make a deep impression. Foley was, I take it, generally assumed to be gay.

Hinderaker then devotes two paragraphs to discussing the cases of Gerry Studds and Barney Frank -- two other gay Congressmen involved in sex scandals (with individuals of legal age) -- and Hinderaker then says:

So I'm not particularly surprised that Foley wrote some "over-friendly"--I'm sure I would find them creepy--emails to one or more underage pages.

So as best I can tell, this is Hinderaker's defense: Hastert knew that Foley was gay, so it would hardly have been a surprise to Hastert to learn that Foley was harrassing underage pages. Hastert is a very busy and important man and something as unsurprising as the fact that the homosexual Foley was a sexual predator pursuing underage pages would hardly have been news to Hastert and certainly isn't anything that should have prompted his attention. A gay Congressman pursues minors, the sun comes up in the morning. That's just the way the world works. Why would Hastert take notice?

Hinderaker then concludes with this:

But, in view of the history of far more egregious cases in the House, the idea of pursuing the House leadership on a "when did they find out that Foley sent a creepy email" basis seems ludicrous, and is understandable only in the context of two facts: Foley is a Republican, and there is an election in five weeks.

The moral relativism here is revolting. "Hey, there have been other scandals, so why should Hastert have done anything about this one?" And worse still is the always relentless, self-victimizing need among Bush followers to see themselves as persecuted -- it's always: "you're only doing this to me because I'm a Republican." As the Lewinksy scandal proved, the media will just outright ignore and bury a sex scandal unless it involves a Republican.

To Hinderaker, it's not news that the GOP House Leadership deliberately refused to investigate -- and actively concealed and are now lying about -- the fact that there was a sexual predator in their midst, all due to a desire to protect Republicans from political damage. To Hinderaker, the only reason anyone is even talking about this is because it involves Republicans. There is nothing here to see. Just in case there was anyone left with any doubts about exactly what John Hinderaker is (or, for that matter, Glenn Reynolds), this defense of Denny Hastert ought to clarify things for good.

UPDATE: Hinderaker, for some strange reason, completely omitted from his discussion the case of GOP Congressman Dan Crane, who, as was revealed in conjunction with the Studds case, had sexual relations with a 17-year-old female page. But none of those cases are remotely relevant or comparable because they involved legal activities, unlike Foley's here. Far more importantly, there was no claim that the leadership of any party in those cases was aware of, let alone complicit in concealing, relationships between a Congressman and a page. In this case, that is why this is a story -- because the GOP House leadership knew of this problem and did nothing (except cover it up). Independent of everything else, the conduct of the GOP House leadership here is reprehensible regardless of what happened 23 years ago.

UPDATE II: The claim that the e-mails which Hastert (and Boehner, Shimkus, Reynolds and Alexander) learned about were not all that alarming, and therefore Hastert was justified in doing nothing, is frivolous on several levels. First, in those e-mails, Foley asked the page to send Foley a picture of himself, talked admiringly about what good shape another underage page was in, commented on how much older he looked, and used an incredibly chatty and inappropriately intimate tone. What innocent reason would Rep. Foley even theoretically have for asking the page to send a picture of himself to Foley over the Internet? At the very least, anyone seeing those e-mails would have the responsibility to investigate to see if Foley was harassing pages, not merely accept Foley's dismissive assurances on blind faith.

Second, Hastert and company knew not only about the e-mails, but also about the fact that the page in question complained bitterly, labelled the conduct "sick sick sick," and his parents called Rep. Alexander to demand that this harassment stop. Those are hardly casual events that one just fails to notice or forgets about. Regardless of the parents' wishes, that by itself gives rise to the obligation to investigate. Third, there were numerous steps that could have been taken to find out how serious this problem was (if they didn't know already) -- e.g., talking to other pages past and present, talking to Foley's own pages, finding out if this was a pattern of behavior. Not only did they fail to take any of those steps, they actively worked to block such an investigation by excluding the Democrat on the Page Board from these deliberations (while including their own political operatives such as Rep. Reynolds).

They knew there was a serious problem here but they did not want to know more. It's clear what their objectives were -- to ensure that Foley's conduct was not disclosed in order to keep his seat safely in GOP hands and to avoid political damage to Republicans, and to accomplish that, they purposely allowed Foley to continue his predatory behavior. That conduct reveals an institutional corruption and rotted character so severe that I think even most Republicans (outside of the Reynolds/Hinderaker cultist types) are having real trouble defending it, even to themselves.

UPDATE III: John J. Miller in National Review's Corner (h/t kindneystones): "The news that House Republican leaders may have known about disgraced former congressman Mark Foley’s behavior as early as several months ago is dynamite. . . . Foley is on the verge of becoming the poster child of a party that is concerned about little more than preserving its power. This could very well cost Republicans more than Florida's 16th congressional district, which at this point they probably deserve to lose even if they somehow manage to replace Foley on the ballot or come up with another candidate; it might be the Democrats’ October surprise."

UPDATE IV: One aspect of this story that is being somewhat overlooked is that signs of Foley's predatory behavior were everywhere, and if the House leadership did not already know about what Foley was up to, they would have easily discovered it had they bothered to undertake even the most casual investigation. First, ABC reported in its initial report that "one former page tells ABC News that his class was warned about Foley by people involved in the program." Second, this Daily Kos comment from early September -- weeks before the story came out -- strongly suggests that Foley's indiscretions were at the very least the subject of "Washington whispers." Third, there is now this article from The Palm Beach Post ( h/t TPM):

Congressional staff members who asked not to be identified said it was widely known among Hill staffers and some House leaders that Foley had been engaging in inappropriate conduct and language with young aides.

One highly placed staff member said Foley's abrupt resignation may have been demanded by Republican leaders who have been aware for some time about allegations of inappropriate behavior.

Taken together, that is some pretty convincing evidence that the GOP House leadership either knew everything about Foley already or purposely did not investigate because they knew full well what they would find.

Either way, it is perverse beyond belief to claim that their lack of additional information beyond the e-mails (and complaints from the page and his parents) somehow excuses their inaction, given that it was their decision not to investigate -- and even to block investigations from occurring-- which is what accounts for their alleged lack of information. People who choose not to investigate suspicions of wrongdoing cannot thereafter use their failure to investigate as a defense to allegations that they allowed the wrongdoing to continue.

UPDATE V: Rep. Reynolds -- after he learned of the e-mails sent by Foley, and after he did nothing to cause an investigation -- received on behalf of the NRCC (which he chairs) a $100,000 check from Foley's PAC. Honestly, I'm not as excited by that revelation as others are. It has a definite cosmetic significance -- and is the type of item that can be and certainly will be used in the miserably substance-less sound-bite wars on cable television -- but money transfers of that type are routine in Washington and I'd want to see if there is anything irregular about this transfer that suggests a causal connection.

What it does reveal is that Foley was a critical and important player in the GOP House leadership circle. And Reynolds and Foley have close ties in other ways. Those facts are surely significant in understanding why the GOP Leadership seemed so intent on protecting Foley at the expense of the pages on whom he was preying.

UPDATE VI: Tiger Hawk claims that the other Reynolds -- Glenn -- merely linked to, but did not endorse, Hinderaker's reprehensible argument, an excuse which Reynolds quickly embraces. Are there really still people left who don't understand that Reynolds links to extremist arguments all the time in order blatantly to promote them, only to then claim that he "only linked to it, not endorsed it" once the argument gets exposed, as it so often does, as deceitful, inaccurate or hateful garbage? As Robert Farely said just yesterday when pointing out the utter incoherence in a Victor Davis Hanson article promoted by Reynolds: "I swear to you, the first person to write 'but Reynolds just linked; he didn't say that he approved of Hanson' in comments gets permanently banned.'"

If you knowingly promote an argument like Hinderaker's -- which disgustingly asserts that it was to be expected that Foley harassed underage pages because he's gay -- then it is incumbant to make your objections clear (as Tiger Hawk did when linking to my post, or I did when linking to Hinderaker's). Otherwise, it amounts to: "Hey, I just linked without comment to that white supremacist article, knowingly sending tens of thousands of readers to read it, but I wasn't endorsing it." That is Reynolds' modus operandi, and virtually everyone has caught on.

UPDATE VII: This is an overlooked though critical fact -- when the group known as CREW (Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics) received copies of the Foley e-mails over the summer, they reported them to the FBI. From the original AP article on this story:

The e-mails were posted Friday on the Web site of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington after ABC News reported their existence.

Naomi Seligman, a spokeswoman for CREW, said the group also sent a letter to the FBI after it received the e-mails. CREW did not post their copies of the e-mail until ABC News reported them, instead waiting for the investigation.

The claim that these Foley e-mails were "innocent" or there was nothing alarming about them -- now the central defense of those still defending Hastert and company -- is negated simply by looking at what the e-mails say. But this is empirical proof of that -- CREW knew when it received the e-mails that there was nothing innocuous about them. Rather, they reflected the substantial possibility that a serious crime had been committed, which is why they contacted the FBI and requested an investigation. Contrast that conduct with the inaction and cover-up of the House GOP leadership upon learning of those same e-mails and it becomes clearer still that their only objective was to protect Mark Foley.

UPDATE VIII: This revelation is very significant. As I indicated above, numerous facts demonstrate that House GOP leaders either knew of Foley's predatory behavior or could have easily found out with the most minimal investigation into the page's complaints that he was being harassed by Foley. Via John Amato, the ABC News Blotter blog this afternoon adds some extremely new incriminating facts in that regard:

A Republican staff member warned congressional pages five years ago to watch out for Congressman Mark Foley, according to a former page.

Matthew Loraditch, a page in the 2001-2002 class, told ABC News he and other pages were warned about Foley by a supervisor in the House Clerk's office.

Loraditch, the president of the Page Alumni Association, said the pages were told "don't get too wrapped up in him being too nice to you and all that kind of stuff."

Some of the sexually explicit instant messages that led to Foley's abrupt resignation Friday were sent to pages in Loraditch's class.

Pages report to either Republican or Democratic supervisors, depending on the political party of the member of Congress who nominate them for the page program.

Several Democratic pages tell ABC News they received no such warnings about Foley. Loraditch says that some of the pages who "interacted" with Foley were
hesitant to report his behavior because "members of Congress, they've got the power." Many of the pages were hoping for careers in politics and feared Foley might seek retribution.

The excuse from GOP House leaders that they were unaware of Foley's predatory behavior is becoming less and less believable by the minute. It was clearly an open secret in Republican Congressional circles, perhaps for years, that Foley preyed on Congressional pages, yet they took no action whatsoever. When they were finally forced to face the issue (as a result of the complaint by the page and a call placed by his parents demanding that the harassment stop), GOP House leaders actively sought to conceal it and to protect Foley (at the expense of the pages on whom he preyed).

UPDATE IX: Just watch and savor this ABC News broadcast from tonight.

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