Luke Russert invents "a Mark Foley situation" for Democrats

Blog ››› ››› JEREMY SCHULMAN

In a Twitter post this afternoon, NBC's Luke Russert linked to a Politico article reporting that "the House ethics committee has been informed of allegations" that Rep. Eric Massa "made unwanted advances toward a junior male staffer" -- allegations Massa has reportedly denied. In his post, Russert made the completely baseless assertion that "if true the Dems got a Mark Foley situation."

What?

The Politico report contains absolutely no evidence that "the Dems" have handled whatever allegations exist against Massa in any way that comes close to Republicans' handling of the "Mark Foley situation."

Just to refresh Russert's memory, the "Mark Foley situation" wasn't limited to Foley's inappropriate emails and explicit instant messages to teenage House pages. It also involved the widespread failure of Republican members of Congress and their staffs to appropriately address Foley's behavior when they had the chance. Or, as the House ethics committee put it in their report on the matter, "The Investigative Subcommittee finds that few of the individuals who ultimately came to participate in those events handled their roles in the manner that should be expected given the important and sensitive nature of the issues involved."

More specifically ...

Ethics committee criticized Rep. Rodney Alexander's (R-LA) staff's "refusal" to give Foley emails to House clerk. From pages 83-84 and page 86:

The refusal of Rep. Alexander's office to provide copies of the e-mails to the Clerk is not supported by the stated concerns for the family's privacy. Although at least one member of Rep. Alexander's staff had been aware of the e-mails for over two months, Rep. Alexander and his chief of staff learned of the e-mails only because at least one newspaper reporter had them and called both the family of the page and Rep. Alexander's office. The staff's refusal to give those e-mails to an officer of the House based on concerns for the family's privacy defies logic given that the reporter already had copies of them, and that Rep. Alexander's office gave a copy of one of the former page's e-mails to the reporter.

Rep. Alexander's office took steps to bring the existence of the e-mails to the attention of others in the House in an effort to make sure that Rep. Foley's communications to the former page ceased. They contacted the Speaker's office and were directed to the Clerk[.] Those steps brought the e-mails to the attention of Rep. [John] Shimkus [R-IL] and [House clerk Jeff] Trandahl, who then confronted Rep. Foley in November 2005.

[...]

He [Trandahl] also, according to his testimony, pressed Rep. Alexander's chief of staff for copies of the e-mails, but the staff member reportedly refused to provide copies, citing the wishes of the parents for privacy.

Ethics committee found that then-Speaker Dennis Hastert's counsel "showed an inexplicable lack of interest in the e-mails." From page 84 of the ethics committee report:

The Investigative Subcommittee deliberated over whether the Speaker's counsel Ted Van Der Meid should have undertaken a more active response to the e-mails, including demanding to see their contents and following up as appropriate, and whether his failure to do anything after learning about the e-mails could be a violation of House rules or standards of conduct. The Investigative Subcommittee concludes that Van Der Meid, as the Speaker's liaison with the Clerk, and therefore as the staff person within the Speaker's office with responsibility for page-related issues, showed an inexplicable lack of interest in the e-mails and the resolution of the matter with Rep. Foley, particularly in light of his prior knowledge regarding concerns raised by Jeff Trandahl about Foley's close (albeit not sexual) interaction with pages. Van Der Meid had also heard from Trandahl about the alleged incident involving Rep. Foley being intoxicated outside the page dorm.

Given Van Der Meid's knowledge regarding Foley's past conduct, as well as his role within the Speaker's office, the Subcommittee believes that he should have done more to learn about the e-mails and how they had been handled. The general concerns he had heard about Rep. Foley had now become more specific and tied to a particular incident. He knew that the matter involved e-mails and a former page, which should have raised a sufficient concern to trigger further inquiry on his part. The new incident involving the e-mails also should have been sufficient to cause Van Der Meid to share what he knew with more senior staff in the Speaker's office, or with the Speaker directly. The Subcommittee concludes, however, that Van Der Meid's conduct does not support a finding that he acted in a way that violated House Rules or standards of conduct.

Ethics committee found that Hastert was likely told about Foley emails and apparently took no action. From page 85 of the ethics committee report:

The Investigative Subcommittee finds that the weight of the evidence supports the conclusion that Speaker Hastert was told, at least in passing, about the e-mails by both Majority Leader [John] Boehner and Rep. [Tom] Reynolds [R-NY] in spring 2006.

[...]

Neither the Majority Leader nor Rep. Reynolds asked the Speaker to take any action in response to the information each provided to him, and there is no evidence that the Speaker took any action.

[...]

The Speaker's reported statement in response to Majority Leader Boehner that the matter "has been taken care of" is some evidence that the Speaker was aware of some concern regarding Rep. Foley's conduct prior to his conversation with the Majority Leader in spring 2006. Although the Speaker testified that he does not recall ever hearing about the e-mails prior to Foley's resignation in late September, he may have been aware of the matter and believed it had been taken care of prior to spring 2006, given the involvement of his office by Ted Van Der Meid, Mike Stokke and Tim Kennedy in November 2005. The Subcommittee notes, however, that each of those witnesses has testified under oath that they did not tell the Speaker or anyone else in the office about their knowledge of the Foley e-mails until after Rep. Foley's resignation on September 29, 2006.

Ethics committee criticized Hastert's office's response to Foley scandal. From page 88 of the ethics committee report:

However, in the Investigative Subcommittee's view, the efforts by the Speaker's office to prepare a statement under the direction of counsel could have had the additional effect of inhibiting the Investigative Subcommittee's ability to secure evidence from witnesses without interference resulting from efforts to compare and contrast recollections prior to testimony before the Committee. This effect was compounded by the appearance of Evans and a law partner as counsel for the Speaker, Stokke and Kennedy during their testimony before the Subcommittee.

Ethics committee found that Rep. Boehner and then-Rep. Tom Reynolds (R-NY) failed to show "any curiosity regarding" Foley emails. From page 85 of the ethics committee report:

Rep. Alexander did not ask either the Majority Leader or Rep. Reynolds to do anything -- each decided to mention the matter to the Speaker on his own initiative. Like too many others, neither the Majority Leader nor Rep. Reynolds showed any curiosity regarding why a young former page would have been made uncomfortable by e-mails from Rep. Foley. Neither the Majority Leader nor Rep. Reynolds asked the Speaker to take any action in response to the information each provided to him, and there is no evidence that the Speaker took any action.

Ethics committee criticized Rep. Shimkus' (R-IL) handling of Foley scandal. From page 87 of the ethics committee report:

The Investigative Subcommittee similarly concludes that Rep. Shimkus should have demanded copies of all relevant e-mails or other documents, if not before he confronted Rep. Foley, then after. Although there is conflicting testimony on whether Rep. Shimkus had excerpts or phrases from the e-mail, there is no suggestion by any witness that he had copies of the actual e-mails. The Investigative Subcommittee concludes that confronting a Member in such a matter without having access to all relevant information was imprudent, but the action did not constitute conduct failing to reflect creditably on the House.

The Investigative Subcommittee also considered whether Rep. Shimkus should have informed others on the Page Board about Rep. Foley's conduct toward the former page. The Page Board is charged by federal statute with ensuring that the page program is managed to provide for the welfare of the pages. As the Page Board Chairman, Rep. Shimkus was the logical person for Trandahl to contact regarding an issue related to a former page. But once made aware of such a concern, Rep. Shimkus also had an obligation to determine whether the issue brought to him by Trandahl was one that should be addressed by the Page Board rather than by him individually. The Investigative Subcommittee was not persuaded by the argument that the Page Board did not have jurisdiction over the matter because it involved a fonner page rather than a current one. Rep. Foley's e-mails to the former Alexander page began while he was still a page, and the e-mails the former page characterized as "sick" were sent within a month after he left the page program. The Subcommittee finds that at a minimum Rep. Shimkus had an obligation to learn more facts regarding the e-mails before concluding that he should handle the matter himself without informing the other members of the Page Board or seeking their input.

Ethics committee criticized then-Rep. Jim Kolbe's (R-AZ) handling of allegations that his former page received a "sexually graphic instant message" from Foley. From pages 81-82 of the ethics committee report:

The incident involving the former Kolbe page and the handling of his communications from Rep. Foley presents a more difficult question. The Investigative Subcommittee deliberated extensively over whether the evidence supports a finding that Rep. Kolbe saw a copy of the sexually graphic instant message allegedly received by his former page, or whether, as Rep. Kolbe testified, he was only told by the former page that Rep. Foley had sent an e-mail or instant message that made the former page "uncomfortable." The Investigative Subcommittee found the former page to be credible and his testimony to be plausible, but given the absence of documentary evidence, the denial by Rep. Kolbe of having seen the communication, and the possibility that the instant message could have been attached to an e-mail sent to Rep. Kolbe but not opened and read, the Investigative Subcommittee cannot definitively conclude whether Rep. Kolbe saw the instant message.

In the end, however, the Investigative Subcommittee did not consider the answer to the question of whether Rep. Kolbe actually saw the instant message sent by Rep. Foley to be dispositive in addressing the conduct of Rep. Kolbe and others in his office. If Rep. Kolbe was not shown the instant message he should have asked for it. He knew that Rep. Foley was gay, knew that the communication made the former page (who by this time was only a college freshman and was less than two years removed from the page program) uncomfortable, and recognized that the communication may have been sexual in nature. He also knew that he was being asked to confront another Member about the Member's conduct on a potentially extremely sensitive issue. In light of those facts, the Investigative Subcommittee believes that Rep. Kolbe should have asked for the instant message (if he did not already have it) in order to make sure that his response was the correct one.

The Investigative Subcommittee does not conclude that Rep. Kolbe's handling of this matter supports a conclusion that Rep. Kolbe violated any House rule or standard of conduct. Although Rep. Kolbe says that he did not see the contents of the message, he did take steps to address the former page's complaint by asking his administrative assistant to contact both Rep. Foley's chief of staff Kirk Fordham and the Clerk. The former page received an apology from Rep Foley, which indicates that Rep. Foley was told that his communication to the former page had made the former page uncomfortable. The Investigative Subcommittee therefore does not recommend to the full Committee either that the Investigative Subcommittee's jurisdiction be expanded or that another Investigative Subcommittee be established to name Rep. Kolbe or others on his staff as respondents.

Posted In
Government, Ethics
Network/Outlet
NBC
Person
Luke Russert
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