Tuesday, December 05, 2006

VF: Did White House know about Foley's e-mails to pages?

An article in the coming issue of Vanity Fair discusses rumors that the White House was aware of former Florida Republican Congressman Mark Foley's e-mails to underaged boys.

The article by Gail Sheehy and Judy Bachrach looks back to 2003 when Mr. Foley was running to unseat Democrat Senator Bob Graham, and was facing constant threats of being outed as a gay man. As Graham's plans to retire became clear, and the seat became open, Sheehy and Bachrach ask why Foley's campaign suddenly withdrew from the race and gave way to Mel Martinez, the eventually elected Republican senator who is now the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

One Florida Republican speculates that Karl Rove didn't believe a gay man could be elected to the Senate from Florida. Another source, Eric Johnson, who is Democratic Rep. Robert Wexler's openly gay chief of staff, believes that the White House knew something about the e-mails Foley had written to the former congressional pages, and a cut a deal to keep Foley in the House if he avoided the Senate run.

By the time, in 2003, Foley began full-time campaigning to unseat Senator Bob Graham, the periodic threats from his opponents to out him reached a peak. After a Florida alternative newsweekly reported he was gay, he called an unusual press conference in May of that year specifically to address the issue, but refused to reveal his sexual orientation. He suggested that Democratic activists were behind the mounting rumors. The Palm Beach Post chose not to make mention of the press conference, later writing that their policy was to report on a politician's sexual orientation only when it was "relevant to a news story." Eric Johnson was astonished. "I thought the media made a real mistake in keeping Mark's secrets for him. They played into his sense of invulnerability."

That summer, Foley's Senate primary campaign looked like a sure winner. A statewide swing with his sister in August brought even some conservative Republican state officials on board. Then, it seems, national G.O.P. officials got wind of Graham's intention to retire, so the seat was more seriously in play. Out of the blue, at summer's end, Foley stunned just about everyone by withdrawing from the race. He called political editor Brian Crowley at The Palm Beach Post and gave as his reason the health of his father, who was in the hospital with prostate cancer. (Edward Foley died in November.)

"For the real political types, it just didn't ring true," says Sid Dinerstein, the chairman of the Republican Party in Palm Beach County. "The reason he wound up with a couple of million dollars in campaign money was because we [the state party] were funding his Senate bid. He barely had opponents." Even this passionate party man is among many who speculate that the White House shut down Foley's campaign. "Maybe there's a belief by the powers that be, which is code for Karl Rove, that a gay couldn't win a Senate seat in Florida," says Dinerstein. (A spokesperson for Karl Rove says, "Not only did Karl never say that, he doesn't believe that to be true, either.") "One could argue it's untrue, since there's plenty of rumors about Charlie Crist. [Crist, Florida's governor-elect, has publicly denied he is gay.] But there were enough whispers that the Foley campaign could have produced embarrassments—and maybe the same embarrassments that we just saw, maybe exactly the same."

Commissioner McCarty goes even further: "I believe somebody took him into a room and showed him a videotape or something pretty definitive, because without a smoking gun, he would have denied it." Eric Johnson believes the White House possibly knew something about the messages to pages and cut a deal with Foley and Fordham. "Then Foley could stay in the House, Martinez would run in his place [Mel Martinez, who later won the Senate seat], and Kirk could move into a Senate race [by becoming Martinez's finance director]." Fordham, however, says, "No one ever called—the president, or Karl Rove, or the head of the Republican Party—to discourage him in any way from running."


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