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.

Monday, October 02, 2006

This needs to be investigated

(Updated below - Update II - Update III - Update IV - Update V)

It has been reported, by Michael Crowley among others, that Mark Foley's former Chief of Staff, Kirk Fordham, is currently the Chief of Staff for NRCC Chairman Tom Reynolds. And it has also been reported by The Palm Beach Post (h/t John Aravosis) that when the Foley story first broke (when just the e-mails, but not the IMs, were to be released), Fordham was "loaned" by Reynolds to Foley to give him advice on how to handle the crisis:

Kirk Fordham, who worked as Foley's chief of staff for 10 years, returned to Foley's side to advise him during the past couple of days.

"He has the ability to look forward and see how things play out," Fordham said. "He wanted to do what was right for his family and for his district."

Why is that so significant? Because of this report today by Howard Kurtz:

On Friday afternoon, a strategist for Rep. Mark Foley tried to cut a deal with ABC's Brian Ross.

The correspondent, who had dozens of instant messages that Foley sent to teenage House pages, had asked to interview the Florida Republican. Foley's former chief of staff said the congressman was quitting and that Ross could have that information exclusively if he agreed not to publish the raw, sexually explicit messages.

"I said we're not making any deals," Ross recalls. He says the Internet made the story possible, because on Thursday he posted a story on his ABC Web page, the Blotter, after obtaining one milder e-mail that Foley had sent a 16-year-old page, asking for a picture. Within two hours, former pages had e-mailed Ross and provided the salacious messages. The only question then, says Ross, was "whether this could be authenticated."

If, as appears highly likely, the "former chief of staff" who tried to cut this deal for Mark Foley is Kirk Fordham, then it means that Tom Reynolds' current Chief of Staff tried to suppress the release of the IMs by ABC and thereby deprive the American public of learning about the extent of Foley's conduct. That is the very definition of "cover-up." And if it wasn't Fordham himself who did the negotiating with ABC, did he know (while advising Foley on the scandal) about the effort made on behalf of Foley to ensure those IMs never saw the light of day? Was Tom Reynolds' current chief of staff actively attempting to suppressing this critical information from being reported or involved in any way in that effort?

It seems like those questions ought to be posed to Tom Reynolds and Kirk Fordham right away (h/t AL).

UPDATE: It is hard to see how Denny Hastert can possibly remain as Speaker when people like Michael Reagan are demanding his resignation, while people like Joe Scarborough -- who has been a friend of Foley's ever since they entered Congress together in 1994 -- are saying things like this:

Reading the first set of e-mails made me uneasy. My friends who knew Mark and I got on the phone and wondered aloud why he would ask a high school kid for a picture . . .

Where was the Republican leadership over the past year? They knew of Mark’s inappropriate e-mails to a former page but never informed Democratic leaders so they could warn those pages they had brought to Washington.

How could the Speaker of the House not remember being told by the Chairman of the Republican Congressional Committee that Foley had been confronted with his inappropriate emails to a male intern? Does this happen so often in Congress that it was no big deal to Denny Hastert?

The most frivolous claim being advanced is that the e-mails which the entire GOP leadership knew about were totally innocuous and should not have prompted an investigation even though, in those e-mails, Foley asked the page to send a picture of himself, talked admiringly about what "good shape" another underage page was in, and asked the page what he wanted for his birthday.

Hastert's first interview since this scandal began is here, with CNN. He really just seems exhausted, beaten, and even resigned. He dismissively shrugs off the reporter's incredulous question as to how he could simply forget reports from Rep. Reynolds that a 53-year-old Congressman was sending inappropriate emails to a 16-year-old page, and speculates that perhaps he forget about it because Reynolds mentioned it in passing along with a half-dozen or dozen other "campaign" items. This story really can't end unless and until Hastert resigns.

UPDATE II: It's been brewing for awhile now, but I think the Bush movement is entering full-blown implosion mode. Even Michelle Malkin is excoriating Republicans, including Tony Snow, who are "inclined to pooh-pooh Foley's behavior and carry on about Barney Frank instead." She approvingly publishes an e-mail from a reader in Oklahoma who agrees with her and who said that he forbade his daughter to accept an offer to be a page because he "wouldn't expose her to those people." He also ominously says: "If this crap continues we the people are going to have to take matters in our own hands."

And then there is the outburst today from numerous right-wing bloggers vowing that they will not vote for the Republicans in November, with some even committing to vote for Democrats*, because Republicans have abandoned all of the "principles" that got them so excited in the first place. The straw that broke the Bush followers' back today is this truly bizarre statement from Bill Frist that the U.S. military is incapable of defeating the Taliban in Afghanistan and should therefore invite the Taliban to join the government we are over there defending (though Frist is now trying, not too successfully, to retract the comments, claiming that they were taken out of context).

For the most insightful comment on all of this, I think it is necessary to return to Joe Scarborough's commentary, who referred to the GOP as "Mark Foley’s party." Five weeks before the election, the Republicans have indeed become the party of Mark Foley and it is a party whose leaders protected and defended Foley and, even now, seek to minimize his conduct. Whether justified or not, there has to be some degree of discomfort -- and even shame -- with associating oneself with that brand. Every time the Republican Party is mentioned, it evokes images of Mark Foley's IMs and the party leaders who concealed his activities. That can't be very good for energizing the base, and it is clearly fueling serious fissures at the worst possible time (for them).

(* The Commissar, whose post I linked to above as one of the right-wing bloggers vowing to vote Democratic, noted in comments (and also by e-mail) that his announcement had nothing to do with the Frist statement, but instead was motivated by what he describes as "Bush & Rummy and the bungled war in Iraq." From his post: "Iraq is totally hopeless. Today, now, it is beyond any rational expectation of recovery").

UPDATE III: John Aravosis says that he has now "confirmed" the story above -- that it was indeed Rep. Reynolds' Chief of Staff, Kirk Fordham, who tried on behalf of Mark Foley to convince ABC to suppress the IMs. For the reason I explained above, I think this is a huge revelation. It means that the Chief of Staff for the current NRCC Chair, a key GOP House leadership position, tried on behalf of Foley -- after he knew of the IMs -- to block the public from learning about the IMs by offering ABC an exclusive interview with Foley in exchange for ABC's agreement to conceal those messages.

That means that the top aide to one of the Republican House leaders, as recently as last Friday, tried to suppress the most incriminating and important facts regarding this scandal. Isn't that the very definition of "cover-up"?

UPDATE IV: Drudge just put up a screaming headline, complete with the whole melodramatic multi-color siren bit, which reads:

WASHINGTON TIMES ON TUESDAY WILL CALL FOR SPEAKER HASTERT'S RESIGNATION, NEWSROOM SOURCES TELL DRUDGE... DEVELOPING... 'House Speaker Dennis Hastert must do the only right thing, and resign his speakership at once' -- Washington Times, October 3, 2006...

If Drudge (who last night was blaming the 16-year-old pages for Foley's conduct) and The Washington Times are now on the "Fire Hastert" train, it's hard to see him lasting more than a week. I actually think the best thing that could happen for Republicans would be for Hastert to resign sooner rather than later, although they then would be faced with the very serious problem that the next in line, Rep. Boehner, is quite implicated in all of this also. It seems like a safe bet that while the top level of the GOP House leadership is focused on saving themselves, the next level down is focused on which new jobs will be up for grabs.

UPDATE V: John Cole has a truly superb post on the Foley matter and the unfolding Republican demise. Nitpick if you wish with some of the words he uses, but he really does capture the essential truth of this whole matter.

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