- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 4, 2006

Former Rep. Mark Foley, Florida Republican, has done what all pols who get caught do: He checked into rehab. Having been outed for sending explicit e-mails to underage male House pages, Mr. Foley issued a statement announcing he has “accepted the need for immediate treatment for alcoholism and other behavioral problems.” Alcoholics should take offense.

What was he thinking? The answer is clear: He wasn’t thinking. What were Republican leaders thinking? It’s not clear they were thinking, either. They were stuck in hear-no-evil, see-no-evil mode.

Speaker Dennis Hastert has asked Florida and federal authorities to investigate Mr. Foley, and the FBI is doing so. House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi wants the House ethics committee to investigate Hastert and other Republican biggies — to probe how they reacted to the news that, in 2005, Mr. Foley sent inappropriate (if not explicitly sexual) e-mails to a 16-year-old Louisiana former House page, and asked him for his photograph.

Mr. Hastert said Monday Mr. Foley “duped a lot of people.” In 2005, Rep. John Shimkus, Illinois Republican, chairman of the House Page Board, confronted Mr. Foley about the Louisiana e-mails. Mr. Foley admitted to being too friendly and agreed not to contact the boy again. (It was not until Friday that Mr. Hastert says he learned of very explicit e-mails Mr. Foley sent to other pages.)

The Louisiana e-mails were not so damning that they alone rated a story. The St. Petersburg Times had copies of the Louisiana e-mails in November, but did not run a story because the e-mails were “not overtly sexual,” the boy’s parents did not want to go public and another page who swapped e-mails with Mr. Foley told reporters that the congressman’s language was not inappropriate, political editor Scott Montgomery explained on the paper’s political blog.

The Miami Herald also had those e-mails but did not run a story. I understand why. It was ABC News’ airing of new, more explicit instant messages that made Mr. Foley’s behavior seem not suspect and “creepy” — as one page put it — but predatory and quite possibly criminal.

But if the Louisiana e-mails didn’t provide enough fodder to nail a story, they were sufficiently alarming that Republican leaders should have done more than simply take Mr. Foley — who went by Maf54aol.com — at his word.

Former Republican Rep. Tom Campbell, now dean of the University of California’s Haas School of Business, believes House leaders had a responsibility to heed the misgivings of “an underage person in their care whose parents have complained.” Mr. Campbell believes Mr. Hastert and company should have followed up — by putting Mr. Foley in counseling and removing him from chairmanship of the House Caucus on Missing and Exploited Children. A chairman of that panel would know better than to ask for a photo out of friendliness.

Democrats have been happily opportunistic in their response to the story. Witness a press release from the campaign of New Mexico Attorney General Patricia Madrid, who is challenging Republican Rep. Heather Wilson, calling on Mrs. Wilson to return $6,000 in “dirty money” given to her by Mr. Foley. Mrs. Wilson reportedly will donate the Foley contributions to charity.

Still, the Dems’ opportunism has been eclipsed by Mr. Hastert’s sorry demeanor. At Monday’s press conference, Mr. Hastert was defensive, when he should have been angry — at Mr. Foley, and at himself for not doing more. He looked like a man who didn’t want to know.

Debra J. Saunders is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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