Excerpts from the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct report are enough to turn your stomach.
“The page testified that . . . (the Congressman) invited him to travel abroad during the August recess. The page agreed, and the two took a 2 1/2 week trip together abroad. According to the page’s testimony, they engaged in sexual activity every two or three days during this trip.
“The page was 17 years old during the time he testified that he had a sexual relationship with (the Congressman); the relationship may have begun when the page was 16. . .
“Two other former pages, both male, have stated under oath that (the Congressman) made sexual advances to them . . . while they were serving as House pages. One was 16 or 17 years old at the time of the alleged incident; the other was 17. . . .
Moreover, two former supervisors of the pages in the House admitted to investigators that, years earlier, they’d been warned about the Congressman’s conduct. One claimed he hadn’t pursued the matter because he “wasn’t sure whether or not he (the page) had mistaken a friendly gesture for an advance or not.”
According to the other supervisor, he did nothing “because I didn’t feel I had any means of doing anything more, either through the chain of command that I worked for or through any other set of circumstances, and that the best thing was that everyone be warned of it and stay clear.”
There were suspicions that the cover-up possibly went all the way to the Speaker of the House’s office. A year before action was taken, a Congresswoman had called for an independent investigator to look into allegations of drug and sex abuse by House members. The Speaker declined, saying that “If the Congress cannot conduct an honest and comprehensive probe of these charges and punish those found guilty of these illegal acts, then the Congress has no right to make the laws that govern this nation.”
The Congressman who took the young male page overseas wasn’t the reprehensible Mark Foley. It was the reprehensible Gerry Studds, a Massachusetts Democrat who was censured by the House of Representatives in 1983 for his sexual misconduct. The Speaker of the House back then was Tip O’Neill, another Massachusetts Democrat.
Studds should have been removed by Congress and referred for criminal prosecution. He wasn’t.
On the day Studds was censured so too was Illinois Republican Dan Crane, who’d had sex with a 17-year-old female page. Saying that we pay for our sins in life, Crane very emotionally apologized for his transgression.
Censure requires that the Congressman come to the well of the House while the Speaker reads the censuring resolution aloud. Crane faced his colleagues; Studds stood with his back to them.
Studds was defiant in other ways. He “regretted” what happened, but showed little remorse. After being shoved out of the closet, he announced he was a gay American. The Democrat garnered support from homosexual activists, some of who were angry that his “private life” was being exposed.
How private is one’s life when 17- and possibly 16-year-olds are involved? They’re not adults. Except possibly in the mind of Studds, who said on the House floor:
“I repeat that in my judgment the mutually voluntary, private relationship between adults, which occurred 10 years ago, should not by any conceivable standard of fairness, rationality, rule or law warrant the attention or action of the House of Representatives of the United States.”
Unlike Foley, Studds didn’t resign. When asked if he would continue in Congress, he laughed, “Of course.” He was greeted with standing ovations when he returned to his district.
Studds did have to give up a subcommittee chairmanship. Still, California Congresswoman (now Senator) Barbara Boxer declared that she continued to look to him as the unofficial chairman of the subcommittee.
He was re-elected six times after his censure. When he decided to call it quits, President Clinton personally called him and asked him to reconsider.
In some jurisdictions, Studds would have gone to jail for statutory rape. In Washington it’s a little different. He went on to collect his more than $90,000 first-year pension.
I’m not suggesting that Mark Foley should have toughed it out like Studds did. Sure, at least at this point it doesn’t appear that his offenses came close to matching those of Gallivantin’ Gerry. Nevertheless, Foley should have resigned and so should anyone else – Republican or Democrat – who was aware of his sordid instant messages to children and did nothing to protect them.
Quite clearly, this isn’t the first time such a scandal has erupted in Congress. Maybe it’ll be handled better this time.
Democrats, including the senior insufferable windbag from Illinois, Dick Durbin, are doing their best to make the Foley scandal a major election issue, suggesting that they’ve suddenly become the party of morality. Not many people will fall for that twaddle.
This Michael M. Bates column appeared in the October 5, 2006 Reporter Newspapers.
Mike is a Capitol Hill Coffee House staff writer.