A year ago, Speaker of the House Dennis J. Hastert knew the GOP had a problem in its midst. Rep. Mark Foley of Florida, a popular Florida Congressman who played a key role in the Republican Party’s struggles to hold on to power in Congress, was soliciting sex from young male Congressional pages.
Foley’s fondness for young boys was no secret in GOP circles. Like other Members of Congress with known perversions and sordid sexual habits, Foley’s dirty little secret finished second to political considerations. All they had to do was keep the scandal under wraps until after the next election.
But Foley was caught sending erotic emails to underage boys in the Congressional page system and the matter had come to light from Rep. Rodney Alexander (R-LA), sponsor of the page who received the emails from the Congressman.
Hastert met with Rep. Thomas Reynolds, the New York Republican who chairs the National Republican Congressional Committee. Reynolds admitted this weekend that he and Hastert had known about Foley’s problems for months.
"Rodney Alexander brought to my attention the existence of the e-mails between Mark Foley and a former page of Mr. Alexander’s," Reynolds admitted over the weekend. "Despite the fact that I had not seen the e-mails in question, and Mr. Alexander told me that the parents didn’t want the matter pursued, I told the speaker of the conversation Mr. Alexander had with me."
Although Hastert met with Foley and told him to cut out the emails and stay away from pages, he did not notify the Capitol Hill Police or any other law enforcement agency that Congress had a sexual predator in its ranks. Nor did he direct the House Ethics Committee to open an investigation into Foley’s behavior. He didn’t even tell the Congressional page board, the oversight group charged with keeping safe the teenagers who come to Washington to work in Congress. He tried, as happens all too often, to sweep the matter under a political rug and hope that nothing would become public.
Foley, Hastert says, promised to cut out the emails. But, instead, he kept sending messages, not only to the page in question but to others.
Hastert needed Foley because the loss of any Republican seat threatened the party’s fragile hold on Congress. He gambled he could keep the scandal long enough to maintain GOP control of the House.
Congress has a long and sordid history of protecting sexual predators and other wrongdoers in its midst. In the early 1980s, Republicans knew Rep. Daniel Crane (R-IL) had a fondness for young women and talk circulated on Capitol Hill that he was bedding a female page. Over on the Democratic side of the aisle, Rep. Gerry Studds (D-MA) preferred boys and his party tried to suppress stories about his affair with a 17-year-old male page.
Both scandals hit the fan in 1983, resulting in censure of both members on the floor of the House and reforms of the page system to provide more security. Crane, who cried and asked for forgiveness from the House colleagues, lost his re-election bid in 1984. Studds, however, refused to apologize and declared his homosexuality in a speech before the House. He won re-election easily and served several more terms before retiring.
Democrats controlled the House in 1983. In 1982, Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill had received numerous complaints about Studds’ behavior along with requests that the Ethics Committee investigate Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) whose boyfriend ran a gay prostitution ring out of the Congressman’s Capitol Hill townhouse. O’Neill refused to act. A few years later, DC Vice cops arrested Frank’s boyfriend and charged him with prostitution.
House Republican Leader Robert Michel also failed to act on complaints about Crane. It was not the first time he failed to act on warnings about members of his own party.
In 1980, Michel ignored requests to do something Mississippi Republican Rep. Jon Hinson who admitted during his campaign that year that he had been caught exposing himself on the grounds of the Iwo Jima Memorial in Arlington, a popular gathering spot for gays on the prowl. In 1981, Capitol Hill police caught Hinson performing oral sex on a male employee of the Library of Congress in a House office building bathroom. Like Foley, Hinson resigned in disgrace.
Congressional leaders learned nothing from the scandals. Michel would later be told of problems with Ohio Congressman Donald "Buzz" Lukens and dismissed the complaints until Ohio courts convicted the Republican lawmaker on charges of sexually molesting a 15-year-old girl. Capitol Hill Police also launched an investigation of charges that Lukens fondled a female elevator operator in the Capitol. He resigned from office in 1990.
On the Senate side, Republican leaders for years ignored complaints about Sen. Bob Packwood (R-OR). Complaints about his unwanted sexual advances towards women began to surface in 1982 but no action would be taken until several victims, tired of waiting for official action, went public in 1992. Packwood finally resigned in 1995 after the Senate Ethics Committee finally opened a formal inquiry.
So it’s no surprise that the leaders of Congress still do everything in their considerable power to protect their own from the laws that govern the rest of America. It’s the nature of the beast called politics.