Saturday , September 30, 2006
WASHINGTON —This time there were no tortured explanations, no heels dug in, no long, slow drip of revelation or fight for redemption.
Republican Rep. Mark Foley, of Florida, just up and quit after his e-mails expressing undue interest in a 16-year-old male page were exposed to the nation. Less than six weeks from a tough election for Republicans who control an already ethically tainted Congress, the more common stick-it-out approach to scandal was cast aside.
"Resigning leaves your attackers nowhere to go," said Eric Dezenhall, a crisis-management consultant. "If this had dragged on, it could have sucked Republicans into the vortex of scandal."
Foley, a moderate Republican whose work in Congress included protections for children against sexual predators, repeatedly e-mailed a boy working as a page in August 2005, asking for his picture, asking what he wanted for his birthday and making chatty comments about school and about another page who he said was "in really great shape."
The page told a colleague the e-mails "freaked me out" and were "sick," according to transcripts posted online by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.
In the first blush after Foley's abrupt apology and resignation, Dezenhall said a typical reaction for those who want to survive scandal and preserve their career — "if you're guilty, repent, if you're innocent, attack" — would not work for the congressman.
"It's much harder to defend yourself against something like this than the garden variety sin such as adultery or murky campaign contributions," he said. "This is not garden variety. This creeps people out."
Florida Republicans planned to meet as soon as Monday to find a replacement in Foley's district, where he had been considered nearly a sure bet to win.
Foley had communicated with more than one page in a personal way, and ABC News reported Friday that he had sent sexually explicit instant messages to some of them.
Talk about Foley's behavior had circulated in political and legislative circles for months, including a House panel that quietly looked into the e-mails, but it was once they surfaced that Foley stepped down.
Others caught in unsavory behavior have had mixed success trying to hang on.
Former President Bill Clinton used contrition, counterattack and an artful definition of what constitutes sex in his ultimately successful defense against impeachment brought on by his relationship with an intern of legal age.
Democratic Rep. Barney Frank toughed it out after the House reprimanded him in 1989 for using his influence on behalf of prostitute Stephen L. Gobie. Frank admitted paying Gobie for sex, hiring him with his own money as an aide and writing a letter on congressional stationery on his behalf.
A repentant Frank faced constituents at a meeting until they ran out of questions, acknowledging, "I did not handle the pressures of having a public life, of being a closeted gay man, nearly as well as I should have." He has won their acceptance — and re-election ever since.
Foley's resignation follows an admission by Republican Rep. Bob Ney that he improperly accepted trips, meals, sports tickets and casino chips while trying to win favors for disgraced Washington influence-peddler Jack Abramoff and a foreign aviation company.
The six-term lawmaker went to a rehabilitation center for alcohol abuse, a problem he disclosed when he agreed to plead guilty in the case, which grew from investigations into Abramoff's cozy dealings with scores of Republican lawmakers and some Democrats.
On the other side of the aisle, Democratic Rep. William Jefferson has been at the center of a federal bribery investigation that so far has cost him his seat on the House Ways and Means Committee.
Foley's troubles were of a far different nature than corrupt lobbying but part of a vivid history of sexual scandal in a capital where reality can be more bizarre than rumor.
In 1983, the House adopted a more severe measure than Frank's reprimand when it censured Reps. Gerry Studds and Daniel B. Crane for having sexual relations with pages.
Studds, a liberal Democrat who acknowledged having sex with a 17-year-old male page in 1973 and making sexual advances to two others, admitted an error in judgment but did not apologize. The first openly gay member of Congress went on to win re-election until his retirement in the mid-1990s.
Crane admitted having sex several times with a 17-year-old female page in 1980. He apologized to the House in a quavering voice "for the shame I have brought down on this institution." The conservative Republican was defeated a year later.
Rep. Donald "Buzz" Lukens, a Republican, was allowed to resign in 1990 rather than face expulsion on two sex-related cases: a conviction for having sex with an underage girl and a later allegation of fondling a female elevator operator in the Capitol.