Of course Speaker Hastert wants a criminal investigation of Mark Foley’s hanky-panky. Foley has already been thrown off the sled, and it’s very doubtful that anyone in the GOP House leadership has criminal — as opposed to moral — liability. (What the execrable John Podhoretz said of Foley applies to Alexander, Shimkus, Reynolds, Boehner, and Hastert: while they may stay out of jail, staying out of Hell is a different problem. They deliberately left a bunch of underage kids vulnerable to Foley’s predation for almost a year after one of the pages had complained, and for five years after a Republican staffer started warning pages not to get too friendly with Foley.)
The key fact about a criminal investigation is that it takes time. Anything that kicks the can down the road past November 7 gets God’s Own Predators the thing they need most, which is a way to keep this thing from dominating every news cycle until the election. Expect to hear Hastert and the rest start saying tomorrow, “Sorry, I can’t comment on a criminal investigation.”
Foley’s crimes — would he be the first Congressman in history to go to the Big House under a law he wrote himself? — are Foley’s problem, and not really a legitimate political issue. The cover-up by Hastert & Co. is a national problem, and a perfectly valid issue insofar as it instantiates their chronic abuses of power.
(There is also, as several commenters elsewhere have pointed out, an actual legislative question: Since obviously pages are vulnerable and some Congressmen are sexual predators, why not abolish the page system, send the kids back to high school, and hire grownups, or at least college students, as runners?)
Democrats in and out of Congress need to insist that no criminal probe should be allowed to interfere with the duty of the Congress to police its own members. The Ethics Committee should start tomorrow taking testimony under oath from Hastert & Co., in public if possible. If the Republicans on the committee drag their heels, Howard Berman should kick up an unholy fuss.
Footnote: If you’re following this scandal, or any Congressional scandal for that matter, the go-to place is TPM.