Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Rahm Emanuel gets Clintonesque about Mark Foley

To update a line uttered by Captain Renault in Casablanca, I am shocked, shocked to learn that the House Ethics Committee has recommended that no action be taken against the Republican leaders who allowed a sexual predator in their ranks to roam free.

Yes, the leaders were “willfully ignorant,” and, yes, they failed “to exhaust all reasonable efforts to call attention” to Mark Foley’s behavior, but the Ethics Committee report said nonetheless that nobody broke any rules and therefore nobody should be punished in any way. Pretty toothless stuff. I finally got around to reading the report on Sunday night – it was released last Friday, which was no surprise, because Washington politicians always release embarrassing information on Fridays – and its general thrust was fairly predictable.

…Except for all the juicy info about the Democrats.

And the material is even juicier now, in the wake of the NEWS that Democratic congressman Rahm Emanuel, the party’s chief hardball strategist for the ’06 House campaign, actually knew about Foley’s predilections back in ’05 – even though he insisted, in an ABC interview this autumn, that he had known nothing about Foley until the network broke the news on Sept. 28.

I started to wonder about Emanuel when I reached page 45 of the report, and read that some of Foley’s emails had been forwarded, in autumn 2005, to a staffer on the House Democratic Caucus, who in turn shared them with Matt Miller, the communications director of the House Democratic Caucus, who in turn shared them with the communications director of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. As Miller testified, “I gave them to him…with the understanding that [the DCCC communications director] is someone that talks to reporters all day….maybe there's a way that he could get the - you know, that he could give them to a reporter.”

Rahm Emanuel was the DCCC flak’s boss. Emanuel’s name does not appear in the Ethics Committee Report, but it strained credulity to believe that the DCCC flak would not give a heads-up to the top DCCC honcho. Which, it turns out, is exactly what happened – as evidenced by this report the other day on the CNN website:

“The head of the House Democrats' campaign committee, Rep. Rahm Emanuel, had heard of former Rep. Mark Foley's inappropriate e-mails to a former male page a year before they became public, a campaign committee aide told CNN. . . .the Illinois Democrat was informed in 2005, but never saw the correspondence and did not have enough information to raise concerns. The aide said Emanuel took ‘no action’ because his knowledge was ‘cursory’ and little more than ‘rumor.’”

That defense doesn't score well on the Washington spin meter. The entire Democratic argument, in the Foley scandal, rested on the proposition that House Speaker Dennis Hastert and his fellow Republicans took no action because they conveniently chose not to probe deeply into the information they already had in their possession about their predatory colleague. Indeed, Emanuel told ABC on October 8 that the Republicans should pay a price simply for being so incurious. He offered this analogy: “If a high school teacher was found doing this with a child, and the principal knew . . . the community and parents would have that principal and teacher out."

He wasn’t wrong to characterize the Republican leaders in that fashion; and the Ethics Committee report rebukes the Republican leaders for their convenient incuriosity. But the point is, Emanuel covered up the fact that he – for his own political reasons – had been conveniently incurious as well.

And here he is, in cover-up mode (video link, here), leaving the clear impression that he had no advance knowledge of the Foley emails:

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: “I just want to ask you plainly -- did you or your staff know anything about these emails or instant messages before they came out?"

EMANUEL: “No…George, never saw ‘em.”

STEPHANOPOULOUS: “So you were not aware of them? Had no involvement?”

EMANUEL: “No. Never saw ‘em.”

REPUBLICAN CONGRESSMAN ADAM PUTNAM (interjecting): “Was there an awareness?”

EMANUEL: “No. Never saw ‘em. The first time I ever saw these things…was when (ABC reporter) Brian Ross broke the (story).”

Well. One can see how Emanuel, the former Bill Clinton aide, left himself a bit of Clintonesque wiggle room. He kept insisting that he never “saw” the emails in 2005, and maybe that’s literally true. But that’s not what he was asked. Stephanopoulos asked, “Did you or your staff know anything”? Putnam asked, “Was there an awareness?”

So maybe it just comes down to what the meaning of the word “saw” is.

To recap, nothing in the House Ethics Committee report disputes the meta-narrative of the Foley affair, which is that the ruling Republicans acted in their political self-interest when they turned a blind eye to Foley’s behavior. Nor does the report dispute statements made earlier this autumn by ABC’s Brian Ross, who said that he ultimately got wind of the Foley story from Republican contacts.

But now, in the wake of the news about Rahm Emanuel, we have a fuller picture: the House Democrats turned a blind eye as well, clearly hoping – in their own political self-interest – that the Foley info would somehow surface in the press and thus hurt the GOP in campaign ’06.

All told, Americans who believe that politicians should strictly police their ranks were not well served by either party in the Foley affair.