TOPICS > Politics

Speaker Hastert Under Fire for Handling of Foley E-mails

October 3, 2006 at 6:20 PM EDT
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DAVID ROTH, Lawyer for Mark Foley: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.

MARGARET WARNER: The attorney for disgraced former Republican Congressman Mark Foley said late today that Foley is gay and had been molested as a young teenager by a member of the clergy. The lawyer also insisted that Foley has never had any sexual contact with a minor.

DAVID ROTH: Mark was under the influence of alcohol at the time that he sent the inappropriate e-mails and IMs, alleged e-mails and IMs, that I have been advised of.

MARGARET WARNER: The press conference followed new reports today of more sexually graphic instant messages between Foley and male congressional pages.

ABC News, whose earlier reports led to Foley’s resignation last Friday, today posted the transcript of an instant message exchange from April 2003. If true, it strongly suggests that the congressman left a vote on the House floor to engage in cybersex with a former page.

But it was House Speaker Dennis Hastert who found himself under the heaviest fire today for his handling of the matter. In its lead editorial this morning, the conservative Washington Times newspaper said it was time for Hastert to step aside as speaker, writing, “Either he was grossly negligent for not taking the red flags fully into account and ordering a swift investigation, for not even remembering the order of events leading up to last week’s revelations, or he deliberately looked the other way in hopes that a brewing scandal would simply blow away.”

Hastert spokesman Ron Bonjean pushed back, saying the speaker “has and will lead the Republican conference to another majority in the 110th Congress.”

In his defense, Hastert said yesterday he never knew until informed by recent news accounts of sexually graphic instant messages that Foley sent in 2003 to several pages.

REP. DENNIS HASTERT (R-IL), Speaker of the House: No one in the Republican leadership, nor Congress Shimkus, saw those messages until last Friday, when ABC News released them to the public.

MARGARET WARNER: The speaker has been less definitive about Republican colleague Tom Reynolds’ claim that he told Hastert last spring about a 2005 e-mail described as overly friendly, but not sexually explicit, that Foley sent to a former page for Louisiana Republican Rodney Alexander.

In that exchange, Foley had asked the 16-year-old boy for a photograph and mentioned a different teen who was in, quote, “great shape.” Congressman Alexander learned of the e-mail last fall. He alerted Congressman Shimkus, who heads the page oversight board. Shimkus told Foley to cease contact with the boy.

Hastert has said he does not remember Reynolds passing the information onto him, but he also says he has no reason to dispute Reynolds’ recollection that he did.

In a radio interview this morning, Majority Leader John Boehner said he thinks Hastert did know about the e-mail months ago and suggested it was Hastert’s job to follow up.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), House Majority Leader: I believe I talked to the speaker, and he told me it had been taken care of. And in my position, it’s in his corner. It’s his responsibility. The clerk of the House who runs the page program, the page board, all report to the speaker, and I believed that it had been dealt with.

Should Speaker Hastert resign?

Richard Viguerie
ConservativeHQ.com
We would have had red flags going up everywhere. We'd have been outraged that a 50-year-old man was talking like this to our children or grandchildren. And Denny Hastert is very culpable in this.

MARGARET WARNER: President Bush, campaigning for House Republicans in California, came to Speaker Hastert's defense today, expressing confidence that he would handle the matter appropriately.

Now, to debate the call for Speaker Hastert's resignation, we turn to two longtime conservative activists: Richard Viguerie, chairman of ConservativeHQ.com and author of the book, "Conservatives Betrayed: How George W. Bush and Other Big Government Republicans Hijacked the Conservative Cause"; and David Frum, a former speechwriter for President Bush, he's now a contributing editor at the National Review and a research fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

Gentlemen, welcome to you both.

Mr. Viguerie, should Speaker Hastert resign the speakership at this point?

RICHARD VIGUERIE, Chairman, ConservativeHQ.com: I think so. And I think any other of the leaders who were aware of these e-mails and then took no action on it.

In my book, "Conservatives Betrayed," that you referred to, I call for the resignation of all of the Republican leaders in the House and the Senate, of course unrelated to this Foley affair. I think they've been here too long, and the conservatives are never going to get to the political promised land until we have new leaders.

This is the like the straw that broke the camel's back, the last nail in the coffin. I don't see how they can survive this. The Republican Party certainly can't survive this.

MARGARET WARNER: David Frum, your view?

DAVID FRUM, Resident Fellow, American Enterprise Institute: Speaker Hastert should not resign, and he cannot resign. I mean, it's just not -- it's not even feasible for the Republicans at this point to choose new leadership.

There may come a time in the future when they have to choose leadership. It would helpful at that moment to know whether you're choosing a majority leader with the skills required for such a job or a minority leader with different skills.

More to the point, nothing has been shown against Speaker Hastert other than that he failed to investigate and find what nobody had been able to investigate and find, either. And we all have a lot of problems with the House Republican leadership. I join Richard Viguerie in that. But it seems to me, in this case, that there's a danger of joining an echo chamber rather than actually thinking clearly and speaking clearly.

MARGARET WARNER: Richard Viguerie, do you think that Hastert is not culpable or is culpable for mishandling this back when he -- at least Congressman Reynolds says he was told about the, quote, unquote, "overly friendly" e-mail earlier this year?

RICHARD VIGUERIE: Absolutely, Margaret. I did a TV show a little while ago, and the host read me the e-mails on the air. "What do you want for your birthday? How old are you? Send me a picture. How about dinner?" I said to the host, "What if this had been your child or my grandchildren that had received these e-mails from a 50-year-old man, who had a reputation of being squirrelly around these young boys?"

We would have had red flags going up everywhere. We'd have been outraged that a 50-year-old man was talking like this to our children or grandchildren. And Denny Hastert is very culpable in this, as any Republican leader who knew of it and didn't take any action.

Hastert's defense

David Frum
American Enterprise Institute
So there's a lot of discontent. And there's going to be a moment after this election for Republicans to decide whether or not they want to maybe change some leaders. This is not that moment.

MARGARET WARNER: So, when Speaker Hastert says yesterday he tried to make the distinction between the e-mails and the instant messages that are much more sexually graphic, which he says he didn't know anything about, you don't think that's a legitimate distinction?

RICHARD VIGUERIE: Not at all. As I said, we've got a man who's got a squirrelly reputation there. And he's a 50-year-old man making these come-ons to these young boys. Immediately there should have been an investigation.

This is a man, Denny Hastert, who was outraged a few months ago that the FBI came in with a search warrant and wanted to see if there was any evidence that a crime had been committed in Congressman Jefferson's office from Louisiana. And this is a man that doesn't want his charges, his members, investigated at all. He's trying to protect them, whether they're Republicans or Democrats.

MARGARET WARNER: David Frum, yes, go ahead.

DAVID FRUM: He's done a better job of protecting the Democrats than the Republicans. The Republicans go. Representative Ney went; Representative Cunningham went; Representative Foley went. It's the Democrats who stay, as Representative Jefferson is staying.

So he's done a much better job protecting his Democratic constituents as speaker than he has at protecting his Republicans. And maybe he holds them to a higher standard.

But, look, this is a serious matter, of course. And if anybody ever showed that the leadership or Speaker Hastert actually had knowledge and ignored it or that they were negligent in seeking knowledge, then there are going to be consequences, but we don't know that. And at this moment, on the eve of an election that is going to settle all kinds of leadership questions, it seems a little bit premature, to say the least, for the Republicans to begin saying, "OK, now is the moment to reassess who all our leaders should be."

RICHARD VIGUERIE: Margaret?

MARGARET WARNER: David Frum -- well, actually let me just ask David and move this on just a little bit. Why do you think this scandal is mushrooming and so rapidly, to, for instance, call for the leader's resignation when, say, the Abramoff lobbying scandal didn't or some of the others that Richard Viguerie just mentioned? What's going on here?

DAVID FRUM: Well, I think there has been a lot of unhappiness among conservatives and Republicans against the leadership. And even though each time they have a good answer, you know, that you can say of Speaker Hastert maybe he was innocent on Abramoff, and maybe he was innocent on the overspending, innocent on this, and innocent that, after a while you've been innocent just too many times and people get a little tired of you.

So there's a lot of discontent. And there's going to be a moment after this election for Republicans to decide whether or not they want to maybe change some leaders. This is not that moment.

Impact on November elections

David Frum
American Enterprise Institute
That may be the ironic effect of this election, that actually two years of a Democratic House maybe the thing that galvanizes Republicans to come out in 2008. But, unfortunately, along the way, the result like that may cost the United States a war.

MARGARET WARNER: Richard Viguerie, is this tapping into -- I know it is with you -- other sources of discontent that conservatives have had with this leadership?

RICHARD VIGUERIE: Absolutely, Margaret. I will say, by the way, that after these e-mails were shown to him, the most basic elementary thing was to say, "Let us see your hard drive. Let us, you know, get into your computer and see what else might be there."

But for six years, the conservatives, the value voters, have gotten mostly just lip service from this administration. This has been an administration that has basically been about, of, for, on behalf of corporate America, Wall Street. This president is famous for saying to his political aide, Karl Rove, there were four million value voters they expected to show up in 2000. They didn't. They showed up in 2004 because they begged, barred, and pleaded, and cajoled them to show up. They did.

And in the next two years, they got nothing. Where are the appointments to help run this administration from this White House for these value voters that were so instrumental in this president's re-election? And they've been just ignored and betrayed. And I think they've tuned them out.

I just don't think that voters are paying any attention to this president. And it's going to be a lot more than four million people who don't show up to vote that normally would, if they had not betrayed their voters.

MARGARET WARNER: David Frum?

DAVID FRUM: Well, those voters should show up, because they have got at least two things in the past two years that are very important. They got two first-rate Supreme Court justices, whom they will -- and there may be more in the offing. They will not get the judges they want if the Democrats take the Senate.

And they also got a war fought and defeat avoided at a time when there are a lot of voices on the other side of the aisle calling for immediate withdrawal or cutting off funding for the troops, as Representative Rangel has now called for. And you'll hear a lot more of that.

MARGARET WARNER: But, David Frum, all right, but let me just interrupt and ask you. What are you hearing, though, from socially conservative leaders of the religious right, whom you know, about the impact of this Foley scandal and whether some of their folks are going to stay home?

DAVID FRUM: Well, look, there's a lot of discouragement in the Republican ranks. No question about that. There is a recent survey that was summarized in one of our AEI reports that showed that, while 60 percent of Democrats say they're looking forward to voting in November, only 40 percent of Republicans are looking forward to voting in November. And that's a scary number.

There's no question there's a lot of dismay among Republicans. In a way, that may be the ironic effect of this election, that actually two years of a Democratic House maybe the thing that galvanizes Republicans to come out in 2008. But, unfortunately, along the way, the result like that may cost the United States a war.

Republican battle

Richard Viguerie
ConservativeHQ.com
You can't have conservative policies and programs if you don't have conservative personnel. Where are the conservatives in this cabinet? Where are the conservatives to help this president run the government? We're waiting, but don't see much.

MARGARET WARNER: Richard Viguerie, do you think that this is going to push Republicans into losing in November? Are you ready to say that?

RICHARD VIGUERIE: Margaret, no, I don't advocate it. I don't want it. I hope it doesn't happen. But I also am not afraid of it, quite frankly, because some of the conservatives' strongest gains have come after Republican defeats. Ford lost in '76. Reagan would not have been elected president if Ford had won. In 1994, they got control of Congress for the first time in 40 years, and that wouldn't have happened if George W. Bush had been re-elected in '92.

So we should not fear defeat, but we shouldn't work for it. But the problem is not what any conservative leader or leaders, group of them, can do. They can do very little right now, because it's the Republican betrayal of these voters that have caused the problem. And they've got to figure out how they reach these voters that have tuned them out.

The people are just not paying attention. They no longer believe the rhetoric. They've listened to the rhetoric for six years, and they're just tired of it. And they're looking for actual policies and programs.

And, by the way, you can't have conservative policies and programs if you don't have conservative personnel. Where are the conservatives in this cabinet? Where are the conservatives to help this president run the government? We're waiting, but don't see much.

MARGARET WARNER: OK, but let me just get back to David Frum one more time. And, David Frum, if Hastert were to resign, could that help the Republicans weather the election five weeks from now?

DAVID FRUM: It wouldn't help a bit. Nobody knows who Dennis Hastert is. It's not like the Democratic leadership.

We have surveys that show that there is very high name recognition of someone like Nancy Pelosi among Republicans, ironically higher among Republicans than Democrats. Republicans will come out to vote against her. Maybe the broad middle won't, but the Republicans will.

I don't think Dennis Hastert is a galvanizing figure for anybody. Republicans won't come out to vote for him; Democrats won't come out to vote against him. The Democrats are voting against George Bush, and he's still there.

So you gain nothing. You don't serve justice, because he has not been proven to have done anything wrong, and you throw the party into disarray. And you short-circuit a lot of decisions that need to be made after we know whether the Republicans are going to be the majority in the House or the minority.

We may need, if the Republicans are in a minority -- and that's a real risk -- we may need a different kind of leadership to be in opposition. That's a choice to make after the election.

MARGARET WARNER: All right. David Frum, Richard Viguerie, thank you both.

DAVID FRUM: Thank you.