The Foley scandal lurches into the dormant House Ethics Committee Thursday morning. This committee is evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans and hasn’t been able to get up the nerve to investigate anything for the last year-and-a-half. The Jack Abramoff scandal was decided in the courts, and the congress was barely able to scrape together a tepid lobby reform in its aftermath. With Bush supporting Hastert, John McCain, an all but declared presidential nominee for 2008, has jumped in to push the ethics committee on and show the Christian Right he is morally correct. Mind you these are the people who smeared McCain in 2000. But in recent months McCain has made every effort to make up with them.
If the Ethics committee actually wants to get anywhere, that is, to conduct an investigation along the lines of congressional inquiries into former Speakers Jim Wright and Newt Gingrich, it will need to hire an independent counsel. That might well be the kiss of death for Hastert, if he hangs on that long, since his own top aide is being accused of helping to cover up the scandal. To make matters worse, one of his supporters had proposed he handle the mess by temporarily shutting down the House page program, leading to yet more outcry.
Yesterday, the Republican leadership was dumping on Hastert and blaming the Democrats. George Will this morning scathingly attacks Hastert, quoting his feeble defense of himself on Rush Limbaugh: “We have a story to tell, and the Democrats have — in my view have — put this thing forward to try to block us from telling the story. They’re trying to put us on the defense.” This line isn’t going to work. There’s a good chance the ethics committee, egged on by the Hastert defenders, will stop attacking Democrats and launch an attack on gays. “Investigators for the House Ethics Committee want to know if gays in the House conspired to protect Foley,” Capitol Hill Blue reports today. “We’re talking
tip of the iceberg here,” one House Ethics Committee staffer tells the website. “This thing will just keep getting worse.”
UPDATE: The House Ethics Committee, which convened this morning, just announced that it will handle the inquiry into the page program. Republican Doc Hastings and Democrat Howard Berman have been selected to lead the investigation, which Berman said will be concluded in a matter of “weeks, not months.” The AP is also reporting that in addition to the Ethics Committee investigation Hastert will also ask former FBI director Louis Freeh to “examine the page system and make recommendations on how to improve the program.”