WASHINGTON -- The House page sex scandal is filled with seemingly contradictory, perhaps inaccurate, statements, finger-pointing and blame-shifting.
In the words of White House press secretary Tony Snow, it's "a mess" -- of the Republicans' own making. There is also the politically convenient timing of a story in the final weeks of the midterm congressional elections that two major Florida newspapers had last year and chose not to report. The Miami Herald called the initial e-mail they obtained -- in which Republican Rep. Mark Foley asked for a page's picture -- "innocuous."
Subsequent sexually explicit e-mails from the Florida lawmaker to an unknown number of male pages showed just how sick this man is. They are repulsive and reprehensible, and if he hasn't committed a crime against these young men (which really isn't clear right now), then the laws dealing with predators who sexually prey on young people need to be changed.
The questions surrounding the House Republican leadership, including Speaker Dennis Hastert, is the old Watergate question posed by then-Sen. Howard Baker of Tennessee: What did they know and when did they know it?
So far in this unfolding scandal, it is not clear that anyone in the GOP's House leadership knew of the explicit e-mails that were later reported by ABC News, following the so-called "inappropriate" and "over-friendly" e-mail to one page from Louisiana from Foley.
That is Hastert's story and he's sticking to it. It is also the position taken by Majority Leader John Boehner of Ohio and several other leaders. All of them say they told Hastert of this e-mail and he had the head of the panel that oversees (not very well, obviously) the House page program and his top aide meet with Foley. They reportedly confronted him with the e-mail and told him not to have any further contact with the pages.
News stories have played up Boehner's statements, saying that he told Hastert of his concerns but that the ultimate responsibility after that lay with the speaker to do something about it. What did not get much if any news play was Boehner's subsequent statements that the leaders, including the speaker, did not know at the time that this problem went much deeper than that.
"I know Denny Hastert, I know myself and I know my colleagues, and if we had seen the kind of sexually explicit e-mails that had been sent to another page or other pages, action would have been taken. Hell, I would have drug him out of the House by his tie and thrown him out of the place," Boehner told talk show host Sean Hannity.