Fo­ley scan­dal is res­ur­rected

Hastert in­dict­ment casts a spot­light on his ac­tions in 2006.

Los Angeles Times - - THE NATION - By Kather­ine Sk­iba kskiba@tribpub.com

WASH­ING­TON — Al­le­ga­tions that J. Den­nis Hastert paid hush money to cover up years-old sex­ual mis­con­duct have put a new light on crit­i­cism that, as House speaker, he failed to take ac­tion against a con­gress­man who was mak­ing im­proper ad­vances to­ward un­der­age male pages.

The scan­dal in­volv­ing for­mer Rep. Mark Fo­ley of Florida led to a 2006 House Ethics Com­mit­tee in­ves­ti­ga­tion that found Hastert and many oth­ers were “will­fully ig­no­rant” in re­spond­ing to re­peated warn­ings that Fo­ley had be­haved im­prop­erly with pages.

Con­gres­sional ex­pert Nor­man Orn­stein said Hastert’s past ac­tions could be viewed through a new lens in light of the ex­plo­sive al­le­ga­tions he now faces.

“The fact that the speaker of the House did noth­ing when there were mul­ti­ple at­tempts to in­ter­vene [with Fo­ley] is in it­self ap­palling, with­out any fu­ture al­le­ga­tions about Hastert’s own past be­hav­ior,” said Orn­stein, a res­i­dent scholar at the Amer­i­can En­ter­prise In­sti­tute.

“If you’re get­ting warn­ings about po­ten­tially in­ap­pro­pri­ate con­duct by a mem­ber of the House to­ward the pages, and you don’t at min­i­mum take that mem­ber aside and say, ‘Stay the hell away from those pages,’ and you do noth­ing — even not know­ing at the time about Hastert’s own is­sues — I find it just ap­palling.”

Hastert, 73, is to ap­pear in fed­eral court in Chicago on Tues­day on charges that he lied to the FBI and im­prop­erly struc­tured bank with­drawals of nearly $1 mil­lion in cash to evade re­quired re­ports. The money, ac­cord­ing to the fed­eral in­dict­ment, was part of an agree­ment to pay an uniden­ti­fied in­di­vid­ual $3.5 mil­lion to com­pen­sate for and con- ceal past mis­con­duct.

Law en­force­ment sources say the mis­con­duct dates to when Hastert was a teacher and wrestling coach in Yorkville, Ill., be­fore en­ter­ing Congress.

Hastert was still speaker when the 2006 “sex­ting” case in­volv­ing Fo­ley, then 52, ex­ploded into public view. Fo­ley quit Congress on Sept. 29, 2006, on the eve of a midterm elec­tion that proved dis­as­trous for Repub­li­cans and re­sulted in Hastert los­ing his speak­er­ship when the new Demo­cratic ma­jor­ity took over in 2007.

By the end of 2006, the House Ethics Com­mit­tee put out a 200-plus page re­port in­di­cat­ing that Hastert, his aides and oth­ers had failed to take suf­fi­cient steps to put a stop to Fo­ley’s long-stand­ing over­tures to cur­rent and for­mer pages.

Hastert was sin­gled out for not act­ing on warn­ings about Fo­ley’s emails — cau­tions de­liv­ered separately to him by two Repub­li­can of­fi­cials in spring 2006. That was months be­fore me­dia at­ten­tion on the sex­u­ally charged elec­tronic com­mu­ni­ca­tions Fo­ley sent to for­mer pages led to his res­ig­na­tion. The warn­ings came af­ter top Hastert aides were told Fo­ley was be­hav­ing in­ap­pro­pri­ately with male pages, the re­port said.

One of the of­fi­cials who told in­ves­ti­ga­tors he briefed Hastert about the emails in June 2006 was cur­rent House Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio, who was then House ma­jor­ity leader. The other con­gress­man who said he talked to Hastert about Fo­ley was Rep. Tom Reynolds of New York, who at the time was lead­ing the Na­tional Repub­li­can Cam­paign Com­mit­tee. Reynolds left Congress in 2009.

Boehner told the com­mit­tee that when he spoke to Hastert about Fo­ley’s emails to a for­mer page, Hastert said the mat­ter “has been taken care of.”

But Hastert told the com­mit­tee he didn’t re­call the con­ver­sa­tions in spring 2006 with Boehner or Reynolds about Fo­ley’s emails.

The com­mit­tee, in its re­port, found the “weight of the ev­i­dence” sup­ported the con­clu­sion that Hastert was told, at least in pass­ing, by both Boehner and Reynolds about Fo­ley’s wor­ri­some emails. “In all, a pat­tern of con­duct was ex­hib­ited among many in­di­vid­u­als to re­main will­fully ig­no­rant of the po­ten­tial con­se­quences” of Fo­ley’s con­duct with pages, the re­port said.

Hastert was one of eight law­mak­ers who tes­ti­fied about the Fo­ley case be­fore the com­mit­tee, which heard from 43 other wit­nesses.

For al­most a decade, Fo­ley had been con­sid­ered a “nui­sance” and a “tick­ing time bomb” be­cause of his in­ces­sant at­ten­tion to male pages, the re­port said. A num­ber of wit­nesses tes­ti­fied they had been told that in one case, Fo­ley, pos­si­bly in­tox­i­cated, ap­peared at the page dorm af­ter the pages’ cur­few and was turned away, the re­port said.

Fo­ley, af­ter leav­ing Congress, re­port­edly un­der­went al­co­holism treat­ment, the re­port said.

As an ex-mem­ber, he was no longer un­der the com­mit­tee’s ju­ris­dic­tion, and his lawyer said he would in­voke his 5th Amend­ment rights if called to tes­tify, the re­port said.

In the end, no one was sanc­tioned for vi­o­lat­ing House rules in the still-no­to­ri­ous case. Hastert was pleased and said so in a state­ment: “I am glad the com­mit­tee made clear that there was no vi­o­la­tion of any House rules by any mem­ber or staff.”

Su­san Walsh As­so­ci­ated Press

EX-HOUSE Speaker J. Den­nis Hastert is ac­cused of pay­ing to hide sex­ual mis­con­duct.

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