Limbaugh and Hastert baselessly suggested that Democrats orchestrated Foley scandal

››› ››› JOSH KALVEN

Rush Limbaugh and House Speaker Dennis Hastert advanced a theory that Democrats and the media instigated the scandal surrounding former Rep. Mark Foley to aid the Democrats in the midterm elections, ignoring ABC News reporter Brian Ross's statement that the sources for his reporting on Foley are, if at all politically affiliated, Republicans.

On the October 3 broadcast of his nationally syndicated radio show, Rush Limbaugh joined his guest, House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-IL), in suggesting that Democrats had orchestrated the ongoing scandal surrounding former Rep. Mark Foley's (R-FL) alleged communications with former congressional pages. Limbaugh asserted that "these emails were planted by a liberal," and Hastert claimed that Democrats "put this thing forward to try to block" the Republican agenda. In fact, ABC News investigative reporter Brian Ross has refuted these claims, asserting that his sources for the Foley story -- to the extent they had partisan affiliations -- were Republicans. Limbaugh and Hastert further suggested that Ross, in order to achieve maximum political effect, had intentionally delayed publicizing the sexually explicit instant messages Foley allegedly sent an underage former page in 2003. Limbaugh claimed that Ross "admitted that he knew about this [the instant-message conversations] all the way back in August," and Hastert added that while the Republican leadership had nearly a year ago been informed of the emails allegedly penned by Foley in 2005, they had not been aware of the instant messages. "We never knew about it," Hastert said. "Someone else held those all the way from 2003 until now." In fact, Ross "admitted" to knowing about only the 2005 emails in August. He has stated that he received the instant messages following his initial report on the Foley matter, which aired on September 28.

In that September 28 report, ABC News disclosed several inappropriate emails that Foley allegedly sent a former page in 2005. The following day, Foley resigned as ABC further reported several sexually explicit instant-message conversations allegedly engaged in by Foley in 2003. It subsequently came to light that Hastert's office had been notified in the fall of 2005 of the emails allegedly sent by Foley earlier that year and several senior Republicans claimed to have discussed the issue with Hastert in the spring of 2006. Citing his inadequate response to these concerns, calls for Hastert's resignation soon followed.

Amid this firestorm, Hastert retreated to friendly ground -- The Rush Limbaugh Show (as well as several other conservative radio or television programs). Both during his interview with Hastert and at other points in his October 3 broadcast, Limbaugh repeatedly insinuated, suggested, or outright asserted that liberals and Democrats had coordinated with the media to create the Foley scandal, even going so far as to proffer that they might have worked with the pages themselves to set Foley up. Early in the show, Limbaugh claimed that House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (CA) should be the one to resign: "She might not know who specifically did it. But she knows where it comes from. All the liberal Democrats do. She knows the person because this -- these emails were held by a liberal, they were planted by a liberal, and they were timed to the 2006 election cycle by a liberal. And liberals know liberals, and so Pelosi knows."

Limbaugh's subsequent interview with Hastert was filled with suggestions of a Democratic conspiracy. Following are several excerpts from their discussion:

  • HASTERT: [T]here were two pieces of paper out there, one that we knew about and we acted on, one that happened in 2003 we didn't know about. But somebody had it. And, you know, they're trying -- and they drop it the last day of the session, you know, before we adjourn on an election year.
  • HASTERT: [T]here are some people that try to tear us down. We are the insulation to protect this country, and if they get to me, it looks like they could affect our election as well.
  • LIMBAUGH: [I] it's clear to me that what the Democrats are doing here, in some sort of cooperation with some in the media, is to suppress conservative turnout by making it look like you guys knew this all along.
  • LIMBAUGH: [Y]ou said, 'Look, somebody knew this long before we knew it. Somebody knew about those instant messages,' and ... Brian Ross of ABC admitted that he knew about this all the way back in August but he didn't have time for it then because he was worried about the Katrina anniversary and September 11th and so forth.
  • HASTERT: There's two sets of emails, first of all, or text messages, I guess is what they are. And one was done -- and one set, or one -- some bunch of them were done in 2003. We never knew about it. Somebody else held those all the way from 2003 until now.
  • HASTERT: [T]he 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 defense. The story is that we have protected this country against terrorism. The story is we have created a good economy in this country, and the story is that we have a plan for energy independence, which we have to do as well. And that's important.
  • LIMBAUGH: here is ABC, the media supposedly out to destroy the Clintons and the Democrats, with their ace investigative reporter now dribbling out more instant messages. And it's become a mockery. They're gonna -- at, at some point, people are gonna start asking questions: "Who saves these instant messages?"

But Hastert and Limbaugh's general suggestion that Democrats were behind the leaking of the Foley communications has been rebutted by Ross himself. Indeed, an October 3 New York Times article quoted him responding to such theories by saying that disclosures from Republicans had led to the Foley scandal:

Mr. Ross dismissed suggestions by some Republicans that the news was disseminated as part of a smear campaign against Mr. Foley.

"I hate to give up sources, but to the extent that I know the political parties of any of the people who helped us, it would be the same party," Mr. Ross said, referring to Republicans.

Further, Limbaugh's claim that Ross admitted to having obtained the more explicit instant messages as early as August is false. Ross has said that he obtained the instant messages only after airing the initial story about the emails. From a September 29 report posted by Ross on the ABC News weblog The Blotter:

This all came to a head in the last 24 hours. Yesterday, we asked the congressman about some much tamer e-mails from one page, and he said he was just being overly friendly. After we posted that story online, we began to hear from a number of other pages who sent these much more explicit, instant messages. When the congressman realized we had them, he resigned.

During the interview, Hastert also claimed that in the 2005 communications -- which Rep. Rodney Alexander (R-LA) brought to the attention of Hastert's office that fall -- Foley had simply emailed a former page to inquire about his well-being following Hurricane Katrina. Hastert described the email as saying "basically, 'How did you get through the hurricane? Are you OK?' " Hastert later characterized the emails similarly: "[W]hat we knew about it was that Foley contacted this kid through email and asked him how he got through the hurricane, the Katrina hurricane." In fact, in this specific email, Foley also allegedly asked the former page to send him a picture of himself. Following is the full content of the email:

how are you weathering the hurricane ... are you safe ... send me an email pic of you as well ...

And Hastert made no mention of a separate email allegedly from Foley to the same former page in which he wrote of another underage male page: "[H]es [sic] in really great shape."

Following the Hastert interview, Limbaugh went on to describe ABC News' reporting on the Foley matters as a "planned, orchestrated release." He claimed that "at some point, people are gonna start asking questions: "Who saves these instant messages?"

Limbaugh later suggested that Democrats might have worked with the pages to document Foley's "proclivities." "Is there a political party that would stoop this low?" Limbaugh asked. "Yes, there is. We know that there is a political party that would stoop this low to set somebody up this way." He went on to suggest "that a lot of people knew of Foley's proclivities and arranged to amass evidence of it for this very reason, not the protection of the kids." He then described a hypothetical scenario in which Democrats might have approached a former page and requested that he "titillate" Foley. "How do you get a kid to do this?" he asked. "You threaten 'em or you pay 'em."

From the October 3 broadcast of Premiere Radio Networks' The Rush Limbaugh Show:

LIMBAUGH: The bottom line is this. This latest assault by Democrats will not work either, unless the Republicans surrender, stay on defense, and damage themselves. Let the Democrats resign, for crying out loud! Let them resign over -- let Nancy Pelosi resign. I can make a case that she should resign. Immediately! Now, even Snerdly's looking at me with a raised eyebrow. Well, here's my basis. Nancy Pelosi knows the person who planted the story about Foley five weeks before the election. "But Rush! But Rush! But Rush! Tell us what you know! How can you be sure she knows?" Well, I can almost guarantee it. She might not know who specifically did it. But she knows where it comes from. All the liberal Democrats do. She knows the person because this -- these emails were held by a liberal, they were planted by a liberal, and they were timed to the 2006 election cycle by a liberal. And liberals know liberals, and so Pelosi knows who Deep IM is. There's a Deep IM here. Not Deep Throat, but there's a Deep IM.

[...]

LIMBAUGH: Now, the -- I guess the big news is, The Washington Times' admittedly conservative editorial page has asked for you to step down and resign, and you have said you're not going to do that. Correct?

HASTERT: Well, yeah. I'm not going to do that. What we've tried to do is -- focused on this Foley thing is -- do the right thing. We had two mess -- you know, there were two pieces of paper out there, one that we knew about and we acted on, one that happened in 2003 we didn't know about. But somebody had it. And, you know, they're trying -- and they drop it the last day of the session, you know, before we adjourn on an election year. Now, we took care of Mr. Foley. We found out about it, asked him to resign. He did resign. He's gone. We asked for an investigation. We've done that. We're trying to build better protections for these page programs. But, you know, this is a political issue in itself, too, and what we've tried to do as the Republican Party is make a better economy, protect this country against terrorism -- and we've worked at it ever since 9-11, worked with the president on it -- and there are some people that try to tear us down. We are the insulation to protect this country, and if they get to me, it looks like they could affect our election as well.

LIMBAUGH: Well, it's clear to me that what the Democrats are doing here, in some sort of cooperation with some in the media, is to suppress conservative turnout by making it look like you guys knew this all along but because you're so interested in holding the House rather than protecting children that you covered it up.

HASTERT: Yeah.

LIMBAUGH: And I like what you said yesterday, if I may editorialize this way, when you said, "Look, somebody knew this long before we knew it. Somebody knew about those instant messages," and you asked for an investigation into who knew what when. We know that a couple of newspapers in Florida knew a lot more than they were willing to release, and Brian Ross of ABC admitted that he knew about this all the way back in August but he didn't have time for it then because he was worried about the Katrina anniversary and September 11th and so forth.

[...]

HASTERT: There's two sets of emails, first of all, or text messages, I guess is what they are. And one was done -- and one set, or one -- some bunch of them were done in 2003. We never knew about it. Somebody else held those all the way from 2003 until now. The next set was -- the other one was something that the family asked Representative Alexander to look into. He contacted the counsel in our office. Our counsel put him to the page board. The page board confronted Foley, and this was the Katrina message that said, basically, "How did you get through the, you know, the hurricane? Are you OK?" But the parents wanted him -- we didn't know what the text message was because the parents held it, and they didn't want it revealed. But we stopped -- we went to Foley, told him to stand down, "Don't do this." We asked if there was any sexually explicit language in this message. There was not, and we thought we had this thing resolved. On the other hand, you know, we're trying to do better. As I said, since I've been speaker, we've taken the pages out of a dilapidated building; put them in a safe building, given them 24-hour supervision, put more people in the page building so that they have contacts, they have people who look over them and work with them all the time. They are under, basically, 24-hour supervision while they're in Washington. This happened when the pages left Washington. And, you know, we're in the same situation with parents all over America in trying to make sure our kids are safe. And we want to work to make sure all this text-messaging stuff and computer stuff is safe, too.

LIMBAUGH: Mr. Speaker, I'm hearing a lot of people -- I'm in Florida, and of course there's a lot of press talk about this and individuals including in Washington -- who are saying, "Well, we've known for a long time of Mr. Foley's sexual orientation." Was there any -- when the first set of emails hit, and the red flags of alarm went up, was there any hesitation on the part of the Republican leadership to not deal with this in public at that point because of his sexual orientation and not to appear to be gay bashing?

HASTERT: No. First of all, what we knew is exactly what I told you. The parents contacted us. They wanted someplace to go to because they didn't want this contact to go on, and what we knew about it was that Foley contacted this kid through email and asked him how he got through the hurricane, the Katrina hurricane. He's from New Orleans, I guess. The other part of it was, well -- we didn't know anything else other than what they told us. We went to Foley, confronted him. He said he wouldn't do it anymore. He was sorry. He was just trying to talk to the kid -- he liked the kid, nice kid -- and he wouldn't do it anymore. We told him not to do it anymore there or to anybody. Period.

[...]

LIMBAUGH: OK. Before I let you go, you know that the Democrats and the media are going to continue to press the Foley issue even though you've dealt with it, even though he's gone, even though the mistake has been corrected. What is the battle plan to deal with these continuing allegations and accusations that are going to be designed to depress voter turnout? I'm talking about in the media when you dispatch --

HASTERT: One of the things that we have to do -- we're doing a media outreach but you understand that a lot of that media is not going to listen to us. Our issue is we have to go back local. That's why we got our folks back home on the campaign trail. I'm going to be in 30-some districts over the break. I'm to leave Monday morning, and we're gonna be continuing on the trail, and 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 defense. The story is that we have protected this country against terrorism. The story is we have created a good economy in this country, and the story is that we have a plan for energy independence, which we have to do as well. And that's important.

[...]

LIMBAUGH: Has Bill Clinton yet written the letter that begins: "Dear Bob:" -- as in Iger at ABC -- "All is forgiven for The Path to 9/11. Thank you, Bill Clinton, our war room, and the Democrat [sic] Party." Because here is ABC, the media supposedly out to destroy the Clintons and the Democrats, with their ace investigative reporter now dribbling out more instant messages. And it's become a mockery. They're gonna -- at, at some point, people are gonna start asking questions: "Who saves these instant messages? What kid saved the instant message?" The parents -- one kid didn't want this out. Somebody knew about this. How did this get from wherever it happened to ABC? There have to be intermediaries here along the way. The idea -- and -- well, maybe the -- I -- look it -- maybe the kid did it himself. I posited that possibility on Monday.

You know, I don't think anybody heard me. I said it. "Well, Rush, why would a kid do it himself?" Folks, you don't know the Democrats like I do. Everybody is now comin' out of the closet, if you will, saying they knew Foley was gay. He's in a safe seat. Somebody knew this was going on. Go to one of the kids or go to a couple of pages and say: "Titillate the guy." "Why? Why? Why? I don't want to get in trouble." "You won't get in trouble. You'll be a hero. Nobody'll ever know it's you. Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah." How do you get a kid to do this? You threaten 'em or you pay 'em. I don't know.

All I know is when I asking yesterday about saving instant messages -- I know how it happens. I've got a Mac. And we, we Mac users use a program called iChat, and it has compatibility with AOL's AIM instant-message program. And I can choose to save each conversation I have with somebody or not. As an individual, my, my message is not on a server anywhere that I don't control. You know, I am the company so I -- well, what about a kid?

What, what company's server is a kid's home computer on? If, if a kid is, you know, not part of a government pro -- I don't know. I'm, I'm -- I don't know and that's why I'm asking these questions about how you save an instant message. I got all kinds of answers saying: "Well, these companies, you know, they save, they save everything that's on the servers, and they can go back and periodically check. They back all this stuff up."

What if it's just a bunch of pages, a bunch of kids and their individual little laptops sitting around at home, you know, wired up and, and the only existence -- the only connection they have is to the server of the company they're using rather than a company that they, that they work for? You know, how do these pages get into the page program? How does this happen? One way is through political connections, political patronage. So who are these pages and who sponsored these kids to become pages and, and for, for what reason? Is there a political party that would stoop this low? Yes, there is. We know that there is a political party that would stoop this low to set somebody up this way.

Now, I know you're saying: "What do you mean 'set him up?' Did it, Rush!" Yeah. I'm not -- again -- you're, you're missin' my point if you're thinking in that regard. I'm not saying that this didn't happen. What, what I'm suggesting here is that a lot of people knew of Foley's proclivities and arranged to amass evidence of it for this very reason, not the protection of the kids. Look how long this is goin' on and nobody did anything to protect the children. Everybody's out there saying: "Now, now we love the children of this country. We're gonna' do everything we can to protect the page program. Why, why everything is for the children."

Well, the people involved in this couldn't have cared less about the children. They didn't find the behavior repugnant but they thought Republican voters would. And they knew that the -- their buddies and allies in the media would do -- why didn't ABC alert the authorities first? Why, why doesn't ABC -- you know, we've got crimes against kids going on here. If they'd had all this since August -- did, did Brian Ross just get this latest batch of emails this morning? "Oooh! Look at what just came into my computer. Why, why Foley was having Internet sex in the middle of, of votes on Capitol Hill. Why, oh! We gotta get this out." How long has it had this? Is this part of a strategy to dribble and drab this stuff out on a daily basis? That's the way the Democrats work.

[...]

LIMBAUGH: This is, this is so obviously a planned, orchestrated release -- timed-release of information that's designed to keep the story going. I know how these people in the drive-by media work. I know how the coordinate with the Democrat [sic] Party. They're all excited.

Network/Outlet
Premiere Radio Networks
Person
Rush Limbaugh
Show/Publication
The Rush Limbaugh Show
Stories/Interests
Mark Foley Scandal, 2006 Elections
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