The Political Hypocrisy Around Gay Conservatives Living In The Closet
And that brings us to our old friend Mark Foley, who was the most uncloseted closet case in Congress in the late 1990's and early 2000's until he was finally outed, although not for having sex with boys-- when he admits he was having sex with the pages (which is rare) he always says the ones who were under 18 he only had sex with in states where the age was lower. A lad in California told me otherwise but when he was in Congress Foley had easy access to Maryland, where the age of consent is 16 (as it is in the District of Columbia and--more to do with Boeckmann than Foley-- Arkansas). Anyway, technically, Foley was never "guilty" of molesting any boys, only of sending them naughty texts. He still tells people that and it is the official congressional story. The state of Florida, Denny Hastert, Nancy Pelosi and the FBI all let it slide with a resignation and some "treatment" for... alcoholism. No shame from the political class whatsoever.
Before he was caught-- and we'll come back to that in a moment, don't worry-- Foley made a lot of public noise about being an opponent of child pornography and served as chair of the House Caucus on Missing and Exploited Children. In fact, 6 months before he was forced to resign in disgrace, Bush signed Foley's Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act, better known as the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act.
I always thought the worst thing about the Foley case was that everyone had their own political angle and no one cared at all about the exploited teenage boys. Even after recognized he was a ticking time-bomb and tried to get out, the House Republican leadership, nervous about losing the seat, begging him-- successfully-- to run again. They soon regretted that in a very big way. Probably most criminal was Rahm Emanuel who blew the whistle on Foley months after he was aware Foley was screwing the pages, but timed the "leak" to coincide with the day Foley's name could not be taken off the Florida ballot. Yeah... that's how the mayor of Chicago rolls. How many boys were molested while Emanuel-- not to mention Denny Hastert, who had his own agenda-- sat on the information?
This week one of the former pages, Zack Stanton, came forward and wrote a Foley story from his perspective for Politico, The Page Who Took Down the GOP. Stanton wasn't even close to being Foley's type (second from the left)-- his preference was for military or military-looking boy-men; Stanton looked like an overweight nerd. In his case I totally believe it was all about-- and only about-- the naughty e-mails. "Foley, it was revealed, had repeatedly made sexual advances to several congressional pages. Hastert," Stanton wrote, "the speaker at the time, had allegedly been told by House colleagues about Foley’s history of messaging teens, and did nothing." Stanton's story:
I was a congressional page in 2001 and 2002. During that year, Foley sent sexual instant messages to at least three of my classmates. The messages weren’t flirtatious-- though some started that way-- but out and out lewd. Two of those recipients continued to receive them well after their time in the page program had elapsed, extending into our college years. Many of us who were pages at the time knew that the conversations had taken place. Some of us even shared copies of the message logs among ourselves. But how the conversations went public, and who gave them to reporters and started the avalanche that ended Foley’s career and dealt a blow to the Republican congressional majority, has never come out.
It was me.
I didn’t do it to sink the Republicans, though as an aspiring Democratic politico, I wasn’t sorry to see it happen. I did it because I realized just how easily Rep. Foley had been evading accountability for repeat offenses, and that the House leadership was either unwilling or unable to solve the problem. I had no idea what I’d eventually learn about the speaker in whose hands the problem was placed.
In 2006, it seemed clear the House leadership knew something inappropriate was happening with Foley and the pages; Hastert’s disgraceful exit from the speakership that year reflected this suspicion-by-consensus. But knowing what I now know, it’s chilling to realize that the speaker of the House had, decades earlier, allegedly sexually abused a teenage boy while working as a high school wrestling coach. What if Hastert’s neglect was not simply incompetence, but choice?
...Foley was [the charming, warm-and-friendly] type. Glossy, every detail of his appearance immaculate and manicured, Foley kept in good shape and wore tailored suits. His skin was richly tanned, like the soft leather upholstery on a private jet, and he had an easy demeanor about him, a magnetic friendliness that made you seem like he really cared about you. On the Hill, Foley was known as something of a publicity hog, the guy who bragged about showing celebrities like Julia Roberts and Melanie Griffith around the Capitol, never one to miss a good photo op. His attraction to celebrity was so apparent and distinct that California Rep. Mary Bono-- one to know-- nicknamed him “Hollywood.”
Most of the members paid no attention to the pages, but there were those who were friendly, who made an effort to get to know “the help.” Mark Foley was one of them. At the end of the page year, he spoke movingly about our class on the House floor. He seemed to have a personal anecdote to share about each and every single page. Foley’s quick smile and easy small talk were disarming, which may be why it took so long for anyone to notice that he was on the prowl.
Early in the page year, Foley started chatting with a few of my classmates on AOL Instant Messenger. AIM was an evolutionary ancestor to the later era of social media and texting, a place where you could instantly talk with friends or strangers while hidden behind a screenname. Like text messages, AIM felt ephemeral-- which probably explained its appeal to Foley. But unbeknownst to most users, the program automatically logged full transcripts of every conversation. It had a permanent memory. If you ended a conversation, a verbatim copy of it would, by default, be saved on your computer.
I first heard about the conversations shortly after Foley initiated them. One of the pages Foley had messaged told me and a few classmates about it. We treated the messages like standard-issue, salacious high school gossip: inappropriate, sure, but nothing too out of the ordinary. When you’re 16, you think of yourself as far older and more mature than you really are-- especially when your daily routine involves a full-time job on the floor of the House of Representatives. You don’t feel like a kid, and the adults around don’t entirely treat you like one. It doesn’t necessarily seem far-fetched that an adult would be interested in you.
Many of my classmates-- myself included-- knew that transcripts existed. In 2003, they were passed around between several of us-- Can you believe he said this? This is crazy! I had the transcripts in 2003, read a few of the literally dozens of them, got uncomfortable, and deleted them. Over the next several years, as the conversations with Foley continued and the inappropriateness of his conduct deepened, the digital transcripts were shared again. In our class, if you hadn’t read them, you had at least likely heard whispers of their existence.
By 2006, I hadn’t seen the transcripts in three years. They had dropped out of mind. Then something happened to jumpstart my memory.
On September 28, 2006, I read a news story that changed my life.
It was a Thursday in early autumn in East Lansing, Michigan, one month into my senior year at Michigan State University. That year, I lived in Emmons Hall, a squat brick-and-glass dormitory from the 1960s, pinned between two busy roads and the gurgling Red Cedar River.
I sat in a standard-issue wooden desk chair, clicking aimlessly on my computer while guzzling another in a long line of Diet Coke cans. On the ABC News website, a headline grabbed my attention: a 16-year-old House page had received vaguely inappropriate emails from Rep. Mark Foley.
The article walked a delicate line between reporting what the emails said, and what they meant. Foley’s tone in the emails read like that of a lecherous uncle. He used ellipsis points in place of actual punctuation, as if leaving out the things he really wanted to say:
“I am in North Carolina..and it was 100 in New Orleans...wow that’s really hot...well do you miss DC...Its raining here but 68 degrees so who can argue..did you have fun at your conference….what do you want for your birthday coming up...what stuff do you like to do” [sic]
A later email from Foley got somewhat less vague:
“how are you weathering the storm....are you safe….send me an email pic of you as well….” [sic]
Foley had given himself room to deny wrongdoing if the emails were ever found. When questioned about asking for a photo of the teenage boy, his office explained that it was their policy to keep file photos of former interns and pages so they could more easily recall them if asked to write letters of recommendation. Foley’s emails, his chief of staff maintained, were simply politics, part of an “ugly smear campaign.”
It was like a thunderclap.
Somehow, I had never imagined that Foley’s behavior was part of a pattern, a predatory approach, year after year, class after class, teenager after teenager; he got older, they stayed the same age. An ugly smear campaign? I knew that was a lie. And I knew that there was incontrovertible proof.
These emails were nothing. You can explain your way out of the creepiness of asking a teenager for his age and photo. You cannot juke away from what I’d seen. The transcripts we traded were totally different—full of explicit references to masturbation and penis size and attempts to arrange a real-life rendezvous.
I emailed a classmate who still had copies of the transcripts and asked if he could send them to me. He agreed, on the condition that I not send them to the press. I lied and said I wouldn’t, and encouraged him to send the transcripts himself to ABC News. Within an hour, he emailed me the entire batch-- dozens of them.
At this point, I called my old page friend Rafael, then a student at Columbia University. Rafael had known about our classmates’ conversations with Foley, and remembered it all well. I trusted Rafael's judgment, and wanted his opinion on all of this. Should I send the transcripts? What’s the right thing to do? “It’s a lot of power,” he said. We talked it out and convinced ourselves that I had no real choice, that I had an obligation to give the transcripts to the media—provided that I could protect the anonymity of our classmates.
I looked up the ABC News’ email tip line. Now that I had the transcripts, I would drop a note to its reporters: there was far more to the Foley story-- he had sexual conversations with my classmates, and I had transcripts to prove it all.
It didn’t take long before Maddy Sauer, one of ABC’s two reporters working on the Foley case, emailed me back. We exchanged messages.
Maddy Sauer, ABC News, 6:10 PM: I received your email in response to our article on the blotter on Rep. Foley. Please feel free to email me or call me…
Zack Stanton, 6:25 PM: Maddy, As I wrote in the tip, I was a House Page (Democratic) from Sept. 2001 - Jan. 2002. Another page at the time… was getting hit upon by Rep. Foley — both during and after the program (up until 2003, at least). I have some transcripts of various sexually explicit instant-messaging conversations between Joshua and Foley that took place over that course of time … As you surely know, anonymity is essential for Joshua, who does not (to my knowledge) want the story to get out because of any possible retribution career-wise. …
Maddy Sauer, ABC News, 6:35 PM: Dear Zack, I understand Joshua's concerns… If you'd like, you can forward me the exchanges with the identities blacked out (as we did on our website) or I can black them out on this end per your instructions. Regardless, I would like to speak with you about the emails before we report anything.
Thursday night, I talked with Maddy on the phone, and walked her through all the information I had, soon sending over several transcripts for her perusal. “They obviously need extensive editing [before you post them online],” I told her in an email, “what with people's real names and screen names mentioned.”
...ABC News had no way to verify the transcripts’ legitimacy, so Maddy had called Foley’s press secretary and read him excerpts over the phone. After a long pause, Sauer asked if these were, in fact, Foley’s words. He said he’d get back to her.
An hour later, the aide called and told her that Foley was going to step down. Not long after, Foley sent letters of resignation to House Speaker Dennis Hastert and Florida Governor Jeb Bush. An hour or so after that, it blew up on the national news.
I didn’t feel pride so much as excitement, adrenaline and butterflies. I felt like I was floating.
That evening we drove back home to the Detroit suburbs, and I passed the hour-and-change ride clinging to a live radio feed of CNN, where coverage of Foley big-footed a major pre-release exclusive from Bob Woodward’s latest book. What the hell had I gotten myself into?
...The full transcripts, which ABC News posted online, Friday, September 29, allowed visitors to read more than just the few lascivious excerpts that TV outlets had already reported.
Teen: my last gf and i broke up a few weeks ago
Congressman Foley: are you
Congressman Foley (7:47:11 PM): good so your getting horny
Congressman Foley (7:48:00 PM): did you spank it this weekend yourself
Congressman Foley (7:55:02 PM): completely naked?
Congressman Foley (7:55:21 PM): very nice
Congressman Foley (7:55:51 PM): cute butt bouncing in the air
Congressman Foley (7:59:48 PM): is your little guy limp...or growing
Congressman Foley (8:01:21 PM): i am hard as a rock..so tell me when your reaches rock
Congressman Foley (8:03:47 PM): what you wearin
Teen (8:04:04 PM): normal clothes
Teen (8:04:09 PM): tshirt and shorts
Congressman Foley (8:04:17 PM): um so a big bulge?
Congressman Foley (8:04:58 PM): love to slip them off of you
Congressman Foley (8:05:53 PM): and gram the one eyed snake
Congressman Foley (8:06:13 PM): grab
Congressman Foley (8:08:31 PM): get a ruler and measure it for me
Congressman Foley (8:10:40 PM): take it out
Teen (8:10:54 PM): brb...my mom is yelling
Congressman Foley (8:11:06 PM): ok
Teen (8:14:02 PM): back
Congressman Foley (8:14:37 PM): cool hope se didnt see any thing
Teen (8:14:54 PM): no no
Congressman Foley (8:15:04 PM): good
Teen (8:16:53 PM): well i better go finish my hw...i just found out from a friend that i have to finish reading and notating a book for AP english
...On the day Foley resigned, the House responded by unanimously passing a resolution to investigate the ordeal. The following day, the political fallout began to spread. Republican Rep. Tom Reynolds said that he had known about Foley’s creepy emails to a former page back in 2005, and claimed he told Hastert about it as soon as he knew. Likewise, Rep. John Shimkus, head of the House Page Board, knew in late 2005, and claimed to have investigated the case, reassured by Foley that the emails were innocent. House Majority Leader John Boehner was told in spring 2006, and claimed to have immediately informed Speaker Hastert.
Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi fired off a stern statement: “The fact that Mr. Foley was engaging in this behavior with underage children, that the Republican Leadership knew about it for six months to a year and has characterized the inappropriate behavior as ‘overly friendly’ and ‘acting as a mentor,’ and that apparently no action was taken to protect these underage children is abhorrent.”
Those facts fueled the growing chorus calling for Hastert’s resignation as speaker. Republican Rep. Marsha Blackburn said, “If anybody participated in a cover-up, whether it was a member or whether it was a staffer or whether it was somebody who was holding emails, that individual needs to resign immediately.” The reliably conservative Washington Times minced no words in its own editorial on the topic, titled “Resign, Mr. Speaker.” “Either [Hastert] was grossly negligent for not taking the red flags fully into account and ordering a swift investigation … or he deliberately looked the other way,” their op-ed read. “Mr. Hastert has forfeited the confidence of the public and his party, and he cannot preside over the necessary coming investigation, an investigation that must examine his own inept performance.”
On an October 4 CNN panel, James Carville predicted that Hastert would resign by the week’s end. Bay Buchanan, his conservative counterpart on the panel, said he should resign by the end of the day.
Democrats had already stood a good chance at retaking the House, and the Senate was close, but within reach. Now, because of the Foley and Hastert maelstrom, it seemed like a foregone conclusion. Newsweek devoted a cover to the Foley scandal, its subhead declaring that the brouhaha “could cost Bush Congress.” It was a cover story for TIME, too, with a close-up of an elephant’s posterior alongside a small, sober headline saying that the scandal “may well spell the end of the Republican revolution.”
On the morning of October 7, a long-lost page classmate called me on the phone. We chatted for about two hours, catching up on things, and then he turned serious.
After the page program, he had stayed in Washington as a summer intern. During this time, he said, a member of Congress who had always been friendly to pages invited him to a party at his apartment. “You really need to be there,” the representative insisted.
On the night of the party, my classmate darted through the rain and strode up the steps to the front door. The congressman greeted him and welcomed him inside, taking his wet jacket while he dried off. It was quiet, he noticed. Walking into the living room, he realized why: nobody was there.
Unsure what exactly to do, he sat down on the couch. The congressman, he said, sat down next to him. He scooted down the couch to get a bit more space. The congressman followed, matching him move for move. It was then, he said, that the congressman laid his hand on his inner thigh, groping him. My classmate claimed to have made up an excuse, stood up and bolted out of the apartment, running out into the rain.
As he told me everything, I was repulsed. But I also wondered why he would tell this all to me. We weren’t particularly close. We hadn’t talked in years. Was he simply confiding this news in someone he thought he could trust? Or was he telling me this information because he was a Republican and hoped to find out that I was the source on the Foley story? It was hard to tell. Not wanting to out myself, I told him that I had family friends who worked at the Post, and if he wanted to talk to them about his story, I could connect them. He declined. The conversation ended, and we haven’t spoken since.
Democrats retook the House by a large margin, and the Senate by a smaller one. In exit polls, 74 percent of voters named “corruption and scandals in government” as either “very important” or “extremely important” factors in their votes.
The next morning, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld resigned, and Dennis Hastert announced he’d step down from GOP leadership.
A day later, I had a phone call with House Ethics committee lawyers. As the call began, I paced around the communal living area outside of Rafael's dorm room. It suddenly occurred to me that some of these attorneys were out of a job because of the change in control of the House.
I answered their questions one by one. The attorneys were polite and professional, asking extensively about how I got the transcripts, why and how I leaked them, the basic facts and timeline of the case. I told them everything they wanted to know, and some things they didn’t want, either.
I mentioned the rumor about the other member of Congress-- the story my long-lost classmate had told me. The ruse about the intern party, the empty apartment, the groping. I told them the name of the page who shared this with me, and the name of the member of Congress he spoke about.
After I finished, there was a long pause. Finally, an attorney cleared his throat. “Well,” he sputtered, “we’re really just focused on Congressman Foley here.”
Four weeks later, on December 8, 2006, the House Ethics Committee released its 91-page report on the Foley affair, a compelling account detailing those who knew that something was amiss-- not necessarily something sexual, but something-- with the way Foley interacted with pages. The report makes note of a late-night incident before 2000, when Foley, drunk, tried to enter the page dorm before being turned away by the U.S. Capitol Police officers who guard it. Staffers who worked intensively with the page program later told investigators that they got a “creepy feeling” from Foley.
More importantly, the report detailed the political concerns that colored the actions of elected officials who were aware of wrongdoing.
The ethics report stated that Rep. Rodney Alexander was first contacted by a reporter on the “creepy emails” story in spring 2006. Alexander told this to Rep. Tom Reynolds, then chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, and John Boehner, then majority leader, both of whom thanked him for the information and said that they’d handle it.
Boehner claimed that within the hour, he approached Hastert on the House floor and told him about the emails. Boehner testified that Hastert assured him that he’d already taken care of it. “More than a day” after Alexander told him about Foley’s emails, the NRCC’s Reynolds claimed also to have spoken with Hastert. In both cases, Hastert testified that he had no recollection of such discussions.
In depicting a culture of soft-pedaling and discretion, the report made a vivid case for major congressional reform. It condemned the “disconcerting unwillingness to take responsibility for resolving issues regarding Rep. Foley's conduct.” Yet the report did not recommend a single disciplinary action for any of the people involved-- no staffer, no congressperson, no accountability at all.
It is impossible not to notice that Hastert, a man once universally seen as above reproach, seemed to deny any advance knowledge about Foley’s predatory behavior toward teenage boys. And it is now impossible for me to believe his testimony to the Ethics Committee-- testimony that goes against what others told investigators-- knowing that Hastert covered up his own decades-old sexual relationship with a boy, which began when Hastert was a high school wrestling coach. That boy was a teenager, a high schooler. He could have just as easily been a page.
Ultimately, aside from Mark Foley, only one entity was held responsible and punished for the Foley scandal: the page program itself.
On August 8, 2011, Speaker Boehner and Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi sent out a “Dear Colleague” letter to all members of Congress. “Changes in technology have obviated the need for most Page services,” they wrote. “We have jointly directed the Clerk of the House and other House officials to take the steps necessary to conclude the Page Program by August 31, 2011.”
I was stunned. The page program was a tradition more than two centuries old, one that withstood the Civil War, Great Depression and plenty of scandals. It would end in three weeks. In a way, the letter’s statement that “the program’s high costs are difficult to justify” was right-- though the cost that concerned them wasn’t monetary; it was political. After all, the Senate program was not discontinued-- it lives on to this day. But for House leadership, the risk of another scandal was simply too great.