Speaker Hastert, the Foley Scandal and Contradictions

Paul Weyrich

10/11/2006 12:00:00 AM - Paul Weyrich

If you had been in this public policy business as long as I you would think that by now I would have learned the critical lesson of operations many times over. But no, I had not learned those lessons.

Here is what happened. I am a Member of the Executive Committee of the Arlington Group, a coalition of more than seventy pro-life and pro-family organizations. The Group is headquartered in the Family Research Council Building in Washington, D.C. In a conference call initiated by our Chairman, Rev. Don Wildmon, we discussed issuing a joint statement. I was tasked with producing the first draft, which I quickly sent to the Group's Executive Director, Shannon Royce. Many suggestions for revisions came from Members of the Executive Committee, including Wildmon, Tony Perkins, President of the Family Research Council, Gary L. Bauer, President of American Values, and a number of the others, including Shannon. The final document was distributed by the end of the day, to be evaluated overnight, signature and distribution the next morning.

We called on Members of Congress completely to investigate the Mark Foley matter and for any Member who was involved to step down. The statement had not yet been issued when calls began to come and kept coming.

In total, that day I did 25 interviews with, it seems, virtually all the major newspapers and chains. I got caught up in the feeding frenzy of the moment and called for Speaker J. Dennis Hastert's resignation. I did so without hearing his side of the story. Early Wednesday afternoon, the Speaker telephoned me. He was calling from his car, in which he was carrying two large dogs. When a fire truck went by, sirens full blast, the dogs went crazy and we had a short interruption during our conversation. The Speaker walked me through what he knew and when. He assured me that the statement by Congressman John A. Boehner, Ohio, the Majority Leader, that months ago he had told Hastert about the page problem with Congressman Foley was incorrect. As to Congressman Thomas M. Reynolds, the Speaker said if he had mentioned this problem to me, I surely would have taken notice. He said when Reynolds comes to see the Speaker he always has twenty or more things he wants the Speaker to do to be helpful to incumbents who are in trouble. The Speaker said he signs off on the majority of requests and only listens with one ear because the requests are repetitive. Did Reynolds during such a session drop the bombshell about Foley in the Speaker's lap without the Speaker's comprehending what was being told to him? That is possible but unlikely, the Speaker said. In any case, he has absolutely no recollection. Hastert went on to say that if he really thought his resignation would help the Republicans keep a majority, he would resign in a heartbeat.

Of course, if the media, liberal bloggers and the Democrats managed to get the Speaker to resign, they would see blood in the water and go after Reynolds, Boehner, Rodney Alexander (D-LA) and anyone else who was involved. The story would have no end up to Election Day. Denny Hastert has been Speaker longer than any Republican in history. He even surpassed the legendary Joseph G. Cannon, who is responsible for most of the rules of the House. I have known Hastert for many years. He was Congressman Tom DeLay's Chief Deputy Whip when DeLay was Majority Whip and Newt Gingrich was Speaker. He is honest. In all these years, the Speaker never has lied, twisted the truth or misled me. I can't say the same for many of his colleagues. So when Denny Hastert tells me calls didn't happen or he has no recollection of something allegedly told to him I believe him. Likewise I have gotten to know Hastert's Chief of Staff, Scott Palmer, very well. I have dealt with him on a variety of issues. He is like Hastert. He does not lie. Many is the time I have called him to enquire about the status of a piece of legislation. In a number of cases, he knew he had to give me very bad news. He always told it to me straight and usually gave me the reason behind my disappointment. Again, no twisting of the truth, no dissembling. So when that former Foley and Reynolds aide claimed that he met with Palmer three years ago to warn him about the Foley matter and Palmer says the meeting never took place, I believe Palmer.

That was my error. I didn't hear their side of the story. After talking with Hastert at some length about the situation, I did something I almost never do. This coming January will be 40 years in Washington for me. I can count the times on one hand where I reversed course over a major issue.

Fortunately I had the chance to rectify the situation. Leaving home at 6:30 AM I did CNN's morning program. I told the story of the Speaker's call. He himself mentioned it on Laura Ingraham's radio show. MSNBC had seen the CNN program and asked me to come over. I did a live shot around 11:30 AM there. While I was in that building, a reporter for NBC asked for an interview, which he got. I was just finishing when CBS called. CBS studios are not as convenient as the others but we drove there. As I was getting out of my van, ABC called on my cellular phone. ABC had seen the MSNBC piece and wanted me to come over. CBS wanted me to watch the Hastert press conference and to wait to see how what he would say at the press conference would jibe with what he had told me. I waited for an hour and fifteen minutes and still no press conference. CBS did the interview anyway, which held up quite well. As soon as I was leaving the CBS building, ABC was in my ear asking why I was not there. I told them we would be there in fifteen minutes. Despite really bad traffic we beat that number. ABC was waiting for me and again an interview about the Speaker's call. MSNBC had wanted me to do another live program and CNBC had wanted me as well. I couldn't work those out. Likewise, MSNBC wanted to pre-tape an interview for an evening show. I couldn't do that or BBC, which also had asked for time. I talked with several reporters from my van. I was e-mailed requests for a half dozen more interviews. I had three more on my home office voice mail.

The point of this is not to tell you how many people I talked with about the Hastert matter but to express thanks that I had the chance to rectify the situation. I had called for Hastert's resignation without having heard his side of the story. I believed Reynolds and Boehner when they said they told the Speaker. My main interview calling for the Speaker's resignation was with NPR's "All Things Considered." The irony is that the channel which most of our people watch is Fox. All of these other networks came to me. But inasmuch as I was in town doing interviews, I notified Fox that I was available. Not interested, was the reply. What struck me was how one network has a guest on a show and the others watch and try to schedule the same guest. Fox doesn't do that as much as the others. I'm sorry most of our people didn't see one of these interviews. But I'm glad they are watching Fox, anyway.

Speaker Hastert should hang tough. There are two investigations under way. Once again I re-learned a lesson. Don't jump the gun. Hear both sides before making up your mind. Having prematurely called for the Speaker's resignation, I'm glad I had the opportunity to rectify the situation. Chances are people who listen to NPR also watch one or another of these other networks.