Former Rep. Mark Foley, R-Fla., 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, Foley issued a statement that announced 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 GOP leaders thinking? It's not clear that they were thinking, either. They were stuck in hear-no-evil, see-no-evil mode.
Speaker Denny Hastert has asked Florida and federal authorities to investigate Foley, and the FBI is doing so. House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi wants the House ethics committee to investigate Hastert and other GOP biggies -- to probe how they reacted to the news that, in 2005, Foley sent inappropriate (if not explicitly sexual) e-mails to a 16-year-old Louisiana former House page, and asked him for his photograph.
Hastert said Monday that Foley "duped a lot of people." In 2005, Rep. John Shimkus, R-Ill., chairman of the House Page Board, confronted Foley about the Louisiana e-mails. Foley admitted to being too friendly and agreed not to contact the boy again. (It was not until Friday that Hastert says he learned of very explicit e-mails 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 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 Foley's behavior seem not suspect and "creepy" -- as one page put it -- but predatory and quite possibly criminal.
Former GOP 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." Campbell believes Hastert and company should have followed up -- by putting Foley in counseling and removing Foley from his 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 sent out by the campaign of New Mexico Attorney General Patricia Madrid, who is challenging Rep. Heather Wilson, R-N.M., calling on Wilson to return $6,000 in "dirty money" given to her by Foley. Wilson reportedly will donate the Foley contributions to charity.
Still, the Dems' opportunism has been eclipsed by Hastert's sorry demeanor. At Monday's press conference, Hastert was defensive, when he should have been angry -- at Foley, and at himself for not doing more. He looked like a man who didn't want to know.