The Foley Scandal

Sunday, October 1, 2006

THE SUDDEN resignation of Rep. Mark Foley (R-Fla.) involves more than an obviously troubled man who sent sexually suggestive e-mails to underage congressional pages. Numerous fellow lawmakers, including Republican leaders, apparently had at least partial knowledge about Mr. Foley's disturbing conduct. A thorough and prompt accounting is needed of what colleagues knew about his behavior, when they knew it and what they did about it.

The system of congressional pages offers valuable experience for teenage boys and girls but also puts a burden on Congress to ensure that the young people in its care are not subject to sexual harassment or abuse. In 1983 the House censured Reps. Daniel B. Crane (R-Ill) and Gerry E. Studds (D-Mass.) for sexual misconduct with pages. Given that history, initial reports about the institutional response to questions about Mr. Foley's behavior are extremely troubling -- suggestive of a self-protective desire to sweep the problem under the rug rather than to put the well-being of pages paramount.

Mr. Foley's interests were so well-known that pages reportedly warned each other to watch out for him. Rep. John M. Shimkus (R-Ill.), who chairs the House Page Board, said he was told by the clerk of the House about troubling e-mails from Mr. Foley to a page "in late 2005." Mr. Shimkus said he warned Mr. Foley to cut off contact and "be especially mindful of his conduct" with pages. That hardly seems an adequate response.

House Majority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) said he learned of the matter last spring, and Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), after first saying he heard about it only last week, confirmed yesterday that he also was informed early this year. What did the House leaders do with this information, and did they take steps to protect other pages?

Mr. Boehner has punted the controversy to the House ethics committee. But that panel has too often been a black hole of inaction riven by partisan divisions. This isn't a matter of judging whether an individual member complied with ethics rules so much as of assessing the House's institutional response to a problem in its midst. The better course would be to appoint an outside investigator to do the fact-finding. Meanwhile, lawmakers, from the speaker on down, should divulge, fully and quickly, their conduct in this affair.

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