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Sweet Column: Scandal splits Hastert, Shimkus. Tracing Hastert hostility towards Soros. Hastert roommates.

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A casualty of the Mark Foley cyberspace sex scandal is the once-close relationship between Illinois Republicans Rep. John Shimkus and House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert.

If top staffers in Hastert's office had knowledge of Foley's overly friendly interest in pages -- as is alleged by Foley's former chief of staff -- then Shimkus did not know everything he needed to know when he walked into Foley's House office in November 2005 to talk to him about a questionable e-mail from a former page, on a mission that originated in the speaker's office.

Moreover, Hastert's team, by asking Shimkus to appear at a press conference with the speaker in Washington last Monday -- but not letting him take questions -- made a bad situation for Shimkus worse.

"I am now,'' said Shimkus when we talked last week, "a little jaded.''

A very cautious Shimkus taped our phone conversation and said it was now his standard operating procedure for all of his interviews.

Shimkus' role in the Foley scandal consists of a few hours -- if that long -- on that November afternoon, when, in his role as chairman of the House page board, he told Foley to cut out any contact with pages. He did not tell the other members of the House Page Board -- a Republican and a Democrat -- about the incident, which he said he now regrets.

Hastert personally tapped Shimkus for the page board job in 2001, no doubt because Shimkus is a former high school teacher and a West Point graduate who served as an Army ranger and paratrooper.
"The page program needed some discipline,'' said Shimkus.

Shimkus would not turn down a Hastert assignment; he owed much of his quick rise in Congress to Hastert. As a freshman, Hastert helped him get a plum assignment on the Commerce Committee. The speaker also tapped Shimkus, of Collinsville, to be a U.S. delegate to the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, a perk with regular overseas travel.

A week ago Sunday, about 8 p.m., Shimkus arrived at Scott Air Force Base near Belleville to pick up his ride back to Washington. As speaker, Hastert flies on U.S. aircraft. The government plane picked up Shimkus and then headed to Aurora to board Hastert, who spent the weekend at his Plano home.


Hastert's team was scrambling in reaction to the escalating fallout from the Foley scandal.
Shimkus was returning to the capital because his staff had gotten an urgent call earlier in the day from Hastert deputy chief of staff Mike Stokke, who wanted Shimkus at the press conference with Hastert, putting him on a national stage on their terms.

What was Shimkus' role? Here's what he told me, picking up the story when he sits down with House Clerk Jeff Trandahl on that November day:

Shimkus was told by Trandahl that the parents of a former page wanted Foley to stop contacting their son.

Shimkus said Trandahl showed him a piece of paper with typed excerpts of the Foley e-mail.

"The parents, from my understanding, would not give anybody the e-mails. They would only share the words of the e-mail that were of concern to them....

"So I looked at it, I scanned the words, I gave them back to Jeff and said, 'OK, once voting is over, let's go talk to Congressman Foley.' And that is what we did.''

Would have acted differently
"In Foley's office, I handed him the example, the excerpts of the e-mail. So he could see. I had to do that, show him something.''
Foley made his excuses. Shimkus, with nothing more to go on, told him to "stop contacting this page and stay away from the pages.''

I asked if the parents were notified.

"Not by me,'' Shimkus said.

I asked Shimkus if it occurred to him to try to get more of the e-mail message (the entire message, when it surfaced in news reports and blogs, was hardly as innocent as Foley maintained to Shimkus).

"I did not,'' he said.

Why did he not tell his counterparts on the page board?

"I was asked to keep this in confidence.''

I asked if he thought to go back to the parents and tell them they had a duty to tell the page board.

"I think, 20-20 hindsight, there are a lot of things I would have done differently.''

• • • •
ON SOROS, HASTERT'S ROOMMATES

Since the Foley scandal erupted, the spotlight on Hastert brought to the surface two items that could use some clarification:

• • The speaker's housing arrangement in Washington.

• • Hastert's accusation, with no evidence, that financier George Soros, a major Democratic benefactor, was part of a Democratic scheme to get out the Foley story. Hastert has had a record of hostility toward Soros since August 2004.

On the housing front: Hastert owns a town house in Washington, and when he is in the city, he lives there with chief of staff Scott Palmer -- at the center of a dispute of what he knew and when -- and deputy chief of staff Mike Stokke. Hastert's 2005 financial disclosure statement shows rental income of between $5,001 and $15,000 from the town house.

I wrote about Hastert's roommates in the Sun-Times last year and put it this way in a September 2002 article in the magazine Illinois Issues:

"Hastert's inner circle consists of a small, trusted group of aides, mostly all white and all male. Stokke, his political adviser, and Scott Palmer, his chief of staff, have worked with Hastert for years. They know Illinois politics as well as the national scene. While in Washington, the three room together in a town house Hastert owns, where none of them has cooked a meal since 1986. Says Hastert, 'I made tea once.' His sons also have bunked at the town house."

Regarding Soros: During the 2004 presidential contest, billionaire Soros poured millions of dollars into groups dedicated to turning out Democratic votes.

On Aug. 29, 2004, Hastert, on "Fox News Sunday" on the eve of the Republican convention in New York, suggested Soros may have gotten rich off of drug-related activities. "You know, I don't know where George Soros gets his money," Hastert said. "I don't know where -- if it comes from overseas or from drug groups or where it comes from."

Soros demanded an apology, and Hastert wrote a tepid and politically charged reply.

The real back story -- and I think a part of the animosity with Soros -- has nothing to do with Foley or politics. It has to do with Hastert's long-time involvement in anti-drug efforts. Soros has funded groups looking at other solutions to combat drugs; in some cases, that includes legalization.

Page-gate scoop: I've learned each member of the House is being asked to contact past and present pages to see if they have had any improper conduct with Foley. The letter is signed by the chairman and ranking Democrat of the House Ethics panel, Rep. Doc Hastings (R-Wash.) and Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.).

Though Hastings and Berman announced last week that they expect to issue some four dozen subpoenas, the letter makes clear they expect House members and staff to come forward with information.


11 Comments

STUPID STUPID STUPID!

Why such a scandal among some folks about the page issue (apparetly no laws broken, certainly unseemly though, etc.) while a big defense about the "white house intern" issue of the late 90s (all presidents do this...what's the big deal? look at FDR...)?

Nobody even got upset, feminine rights-wise, about how the president of an organization where an intern is working would be taking a HUGE advantage of the young girl (early 20s) by coming on to her. Would she lose her job if she said no? None of the pages actually work for any legislator. Remember when the CEO of Boeing lost his job for a relationship with someone actually suitable as a partner?

Is the difference here that of gay vs. straight? Can you imagine the radiation from an announcement several years ago that a gay congressman was being monitored?

And isn't it interesting how it's all seems to do mainly with politics. One week crowd "A" is on one side, ad the next time they're on the other.

Hastert is right to just hang on and igore the whole thing. Does anybody think he somehow knew and allowed this kind of thing to go on? Is that the kind of person he is? I don't think so. It's just stupid political smoke.

STUPID STUPID STUPID

LYNN SWEET BLOG READERS
The blog has been getting a lot of junk comments (makes me blush stuff)

Anyway...some real comments--not the blue material--have not been getting through. Should now.

thanks.

Lynn,

Soon after the Foley emails and IMs emerged (separate questions in terms of the original Shimkus investigation last year), questions were being raised about broader knowledge and perhaps politics in holding on to information for an "October Surprise". To get a feel for what Hastert et al were saying, see this blog entry soon after ABC allegedly broke this story:

Foley and the Blame Game
October 1st, 2006

Pardon me, but I smell something very peculiar in the way we have learned of the disgrace of Rep. Mark Foley.

The email scandal which led to the resignation of the Republican Congressman is reverberating throughout the capital and the nation, as Democrats attempt to capitalize on bad news for Republicans. The seamiest of the released emails, which Foley has not denied, are right up there with Rhodes Scholar and Illinois Democratic Congressman Mel Reynolds’ taped phone conversations lusting for 15 year old Catholic school girls in their uniforms.

But Democrats are attempting to make hay by alleging that the Republican leadership may have known about the inappropriate emails and covered them up for months. Their hope, no doubt, is to discourage turnout by disillusioned evangelical and other voters sensitive to moral issues. But the emerging background detail suggests that this is simply not the case, and that an attack strategy has been devised by parties anxious to damage the GOP and swing the coming election.

In July a blog appeared, designed it said to trace sex predators. Few posts were made in that month or the following month. All recounted years old stories. Then on September 18, the blog printed the fairly innocuous email exchange between Congressman Foley and an unnamed page.In this correspondence initiated by the former page, Foley asks the former page how he is after Katrina (the boy lived in Louisiana) and asked for a photo. Thus began the latest political kerfuffle which swirls through the final five weeks of the campaign. How likely is it that this site with virtually no readership , few posts and hardly any history or posts of interest suddenly receives this bombshell? I’d say slight. About as likely as Lucy Ramirez handing Burkett Bush’s TANG papers. Let’s track back what else we know of this story. Sometime last year a former page contacted the St. Petersburg Times with an exchange of emails between himself and Congressman Foley. In the words of the editor, they never ran the story. (The following has been realeased by the office of the Speaker of the House, but does not yet appear online at the time of this writing.)

In November of last year, we were given copies of an email exchange Foley had with a former page from Louisiana. Other news organizations later got them, too. The conversation in those emails was friendly chit-chat. Foley asked the boy about how he had come through Hurricane Katrina and about the boy’s upcoming birthday. In one of those emails, Foley casually asked theteen to send him a “pic��? of himself. Also among those emails was the page’s exchange with a congressional staffer in the office of Rep. Alexander, who had been the teen’s sponsor in the page program. The teen shared his exchange he’d had with Foley and asked the staffer if she thought Foley was out of bounds.

There was nothing overtly sexual in the emails, but we assigned two reporters to find out more. We found the Louisiana page and talked with him.He told us Foley’s request for a photo made him uncomfortable so he never responded, but both he and his parents made clear we could not use his name if we wrote a story. We also found another page who was willing to go on the record, but his experience with Foley was different. He said Foley did send a few emails but never said anything in them that he found inappropriate. We tried to find other pages but had no luck. We spoke with Rep. Alexander, who said the boy’s family didn’t want it pursued, and Foley, who insisted he was merely trying to be friendly and never wanted to make the page uncomfortable.

So, what we had was a set of emails between Foley and a teenager, who wouldn’t go on the record about how those emails made him feel. As we said in today’s paper, our policy is that we don’t make accusations against people using unnamed sources. And given the seriousness of what would be implied in a story, it was critical that we have complete confidence in our sourcing. After much discussion among top editors at the paper, we concluded that the information we had on Foley last November didn’t meet our standard for publication. Evidently, other news organizations felt the same way.

Since that time, we revisited the question more than once, but never learned anything that changed our position. [b]The Louisiana boy’s emails broke into the open last weekend, when a blogger got copies and posted them online. Later that week, on Thursday, a news blog at the website of ABC News followed suit, with the addition of one new fact: Foley’s Democratic opponent, Tim Mahoney, was on the record about the Louisiana boy’s emails and was calling for an investigation. That’s when we wrote our first story,for Friday’s papers.

After ABC News broke the story on its website, someone contacted ABC and provided a detailed email exchange between Foley and at least one other page that was far different from what we had seen before. This was overtly sexual, not something Foley could dismiss as misinterpreted friendliness. That’s what drove Foley to resign on Friday.

So, the paper had nothing it could act on. But Foley’s opponent somehow got wind of the story which had appeared before only on a very new, utterly obscure blogsite and demanded an investigation. ABC then picked up the story and when it did , further anonymous sources with far more salacious and troublesome evidence appeared on the scene. What an amazing-and unlikely to me-turn of events. Like that paper, the Republican leadership only knew of the innocuous email exchange:

Late night Congressman Hastert said of the incident (in terms remarkably similar to the editor’s):

In the fall of 2005 Tim Kennedy, a staff assistant in the Speaker’s Office, received a telephone call from Congressman Rodney Alexander’s Chief of Staff who indicated that he had an email exchange between Congressman Foley and a former House page. He did not reveal the specific text of the email but expressed that he and Congressman Alexander were concerned about it.

Tim Kennedy immediately discussed the matter with his supervisor, Mike Stokke, Speaker Hastert’s Deputy Chief of Staff. Stokke directed Kennedy to ask Ted Van Der Meid, the Speaker’s in house Counsel, who the proper person was for Congressman Alexander to report a problem related to a former page.Ted Van Der Meid told Kennedy it was the Clerk of the House who should be notified as the responsible House Officer for the page program. Later thatday Stokke met with Congressman Alexander’s Chief of Staff. Once again the specific content of the email was not discussed. Stokke called the Clerk and asked him to come to the Speaker’s Office so that he could put him together with Congressman Alexander’s Chief of Staff. The Clerk and Congressman Alexander’s Chief of Staff then went to the Clerk’s Office to discuss the matter.

The Clerk asked to see the text of the email. Congressman Alexander’s office declined citing the fact that the family wished to maintain as much privacy as possible and simply wanted the contact to stop. The Clerk asked if the email exchange was of a sexual nature and was assured it was not. Congressman Alexander’s Chief of Staff characterized the email exchange as over-friendly.

The Clerk then contacted Congressman Shimkus, the Chairman of the Page Board to request an immediate meeting. It appears he also notified Van Der Meid that he had received the complaint and was taking action. This is entirely consistent with what he would normally expect to occur as he was the Speaker’s Office liaison with the Clerk’s Office.

The Clerk and Congressman Shimkus met and then immediately met with Foley to discuss the matter. They asked Foley about the email. Congressman Shimkus and the Clerk made it clear that to avoid even the appearance of impropriety and at the request of the parents, Congressman Foley was to immediately cease any communication with the young man.

The Clerk recalls that later that day he encountered Van Der Meid on the House floor and reported to him that he and Shimkus personally had spoken to Foley and had taken corrective action.

Mindful of the sensitivity to the parent’s wishes to protect their child’s privacy and believing that they had promptly reported what they knew to the proper authorities Kennedy, Van Der Meid and Stokke did not discuss the matter with others in the Speaker’s Office.

Congressman Tom Reynolds in a statement issued today indicates that many months later, in the spring of 2006, he was approached by Congressman Alexander who mentioned the Foley issue from the previous fall. During a meeting with the Speaker he says he noted the issue which had been raised by Alexander and told the Speaker that an investigation was conducted by the Clerk of the House and Shimkus. While the Speaker does not explicitly recall this conversation, he has no reason to dispute Congressman Reynold’s recollection that he reported to him on the problem and its resolution.

Sexually Explicit Instant Message Transcript

No one in the Speaker’s Office was made aware of the sexually explicit text messages which press reports suggest had been directed to another individual until they were revealed in the press and on the internet this week. In fact, no one was ever made aware of any sexually explicit email or text messages at any time.

It is not only the recent, unread blog spot breaking the story which raises my suspicions. The rest of the genesis of the story is as murky.

Brian Ross of ABC ran the story, beginning with the same “overly friendly��? but not sexually suggestive email exchange and adding a series of instant messages dating to 2003 previously unseen by anyone in Congress between Foley and anonymous recipients said to be former pages. The Republican leaders, seeing the more damning correspondence, sought and got Foley’s resignation.

As soon as the ABC story ran, and organization called C.R.E.W., which said it had the original exchange which Hastert had heard of and the St Peterburg paper had seen, put them on their website .They said they’d earlier conveyed them to the FBI, were releasing them because of the ABC story, and asked for the appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate the Republican leadership.It is abundantly clear to me that C.R.E.W. and ABC communicated and may have coordinated the release of this story.

Who is C.R.E.W.?

Here’s what The Hill wrote:

One target of Republican criticism is Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), the group that last year assisted former Rep. Chris Bell (D-Texas) in drafting an ethics complaint against DeLay, which resulted in an admonishment of DeLay from the ethics committee. At last week’s press conference, Melanie Sloan, CREW’s executive director, said that DeLay should step down as majority leader.

From 1995 to 1998, CREW’s Sloan served as minority counsel for the House Judiciary Committee under Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.). Before that, Sloan served as the nominations counsel on the Senate Judiciary Committee under Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.).

According to GOP research, Mark Penn, who had been a pollster for President Clinton, and Daniel Berger, a major Democratic donor, are on CREW’s board. Spokeswoman Naomi Seligman declined several requests to reveal the membership of CREW’s board, although she confirmed that Penn and Berger are members. Last year, Berger made a $100,000 contribution to America Coming Together (ACT), a 527 group that was dedicated to defeating Bush in the presidential election, according to politicalmoneyline.com, a website that tracks fundraising.

CREW declined to respond to the RNC talking points or House GOP research.

C.R.E.W. is one of four “public interest��? organizations which the RNC has long identifed as major recipients of George Soros richly-funded Open Society Institute. It is backing the risible Wilson/Plame civil suit against Cheney and others.

What do we know of Brian Ross?

My favorite media watcher, Steve Gilbert reports:

Brian Ross of ABC News is the reporter behind the story that Rep. Dennis Hastert is being investigated by the Department Of Justice. Ross is sticking to his charges despite vehement denials from both the DOJ and Hastert himself.

Some may recall that Brian Ross has been involved in past journalistic controversies. Just last week, Mr. Ross reported he was tipped off by unnamed “senior federal officials��? that his cell phone was tapped by NSA.

Last month, Ross was one of the first (if not the first) to report that Rush Limbaugh “had been arrested.��? Reports which turned out to be greatly exaggerated, but which Ross never corrected.

In January, Brian Ross was the first to promulgate the claims of the self-proclaimed NSA whistleblower, Russell Tice. Ross treated Tice has a highly credible source even though Tice had been cashiered from the agency due to “psychological problems.��?

ABC has not disclosed the names of the recipients of the instant messages which were sexually explicit, years old, and not seen by anyone else. We do not know how anyone but the recipients could have retrieved them. We do not even know if they are authentic. None of the recipients has come forward and identified himself. What we do know is that reputable media and the Republican leadership acted appropriately on the initial innocuous correspondence and could not proceed further in view of the parents’ demand that their son’s privacy be respected only to find months later just before the election that same correpondence showing up on an unlikely blog site and then almost simultaneously on ABC and on C.R.E.W.’s site. As for the demand that a special prosecutor be appointed, maybe Patrick Fitzgerald can be appointed. Then he can fail to ask ABC or C.R.E.W. how they got the correspondence, ignore their political motivations, conflate their partisanship with “whistleblowing��?, not look for the sources of the later sexually explicit emails, and nab Hastert for forgetting when he went to the bathroom on the day he heard about the emails. Clarice Feldman is an attorney in Washington, DC. and a frequent contributor to American Thinker


Not surprising that Foley is both a homosexual and a child sex predator

About all I can decern from the anonymous, laborious, repost of an entire, copyrighted, article, from American Thinker by Clarise Feldman by someone named Strange Circumstances is what?

Dennis Hastert did not have enough to go on?

Hilarious stuff, kids. Think some Democrats may be responsible for working the story to their advantage?

HA! I'll bet they just might have!

All I can say is it is about goddamned time. It is time for Democrats to stick it in and break it off in some fat Republican guts, starting with Denny Hastert. I hope they have a few more juicy ones to pull out of the sack between now and election day.

It's incredible how this situation has turned so political. What's even more incredible are the posts I'm reading. (Clearly Republican supporters)

The fact of the matter is a congressman was soliciting a minor. The minor's gender is of no relevance. The leader of Congress knew about it and tried to hide it for whatever reason. The Democrats didn't make this situation up and they didn't uncover it. The news (media) caught hold to this hence all the coverage. It amazes me how every scandal the Republicans are involved in whether it's Iraq, Oil, Bin Laden, corporate scandals, sex scandals, whatever, it's always the fault of Clinton and the rest of the Democrats that we(the public) find out about it. Republicans are never accountable in their actions and it makes me sick. I see the entire party as a bunch of crooks and hypocrites. All of them should be thrown in jail and all of you idiots who are blaming the democrats and not the perverted creepy ol' Congressman should be their cellmates!!!

While the focus appears to be on party, in truth it should be about a congressman attempting to exploit a minor. It does'nt matter where the story came from, just that the story is true, an that if this was say, a teacher attempting to have sex with our child at school, most of us would want legal action taken, an the school held responsibile. Why is it different here? Do we value our party affliation more that we value children? Are does it apply if its only our own children? In regards to Congressman Hastert,a very nice, grandfatherly man, who appears is out of touch. One day he is complaining about Mr Soros and his activities (in america we can provide financial support to whom and what we choose), the next he is inviting strangers into his home without knowing anything about them. Is this a man thats rattled or someone who now has poor judgement? Maybe, an he's not alone, he's been in Congress so long, that times have passed him by.

Lynn,

After reading your blog I have a few comments. In your blog it reads:

"Why did he not tell his counterparts on the page board?

"I was asked to keep this in confidence.''

WHO asked him to keep it in confidence????

Also by keeping it in confidence and and not going to the other counterparts on the board isn't that a coverup? Whether he knew of the sexually explicit im's or just the overly friendly emails doesn't matter, I would think either behavior should be shared with the whole board.

LYNN SWEET REPLY
Shimkus was told the parents of the page wanted the matter kept confidential.

Dont being a homosexual and child predator go hand in hand?

Peter C,

YOUR IGNORANT!!!!!

Thank you, Lynn. This gives more background and perspective than any other description of Congressman Shimkus' actions.

LYNN SWEET REPLY
Thanks, David!

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Lynn Sweet

Lynn Sweet is a columnist and the Washington Bureau Chief for the Chicago Sun-Times.

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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Lynn Sweet published on October 9, 2006 5:54 AM.

Sweet Blog Scoop: House members to ask past and present pages of Foley contacts. was the previous entry in this blog.

Sweet Column: Security Breach. Hastert duped into opening home to ``egomaniac'' evangelist. More Foley fallout. is the next entry in this blog.

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