Saturday, October 07, 2006

WHY HASTERT IS DONE Republicans could have spared themselves a second disastrous week by dumping House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) on Thursday or Friday. Instead, by deciding not to hold the Speaker accountable for the Foley mess, they've guaranteed at least a few more days of political turmoil.

And in the end, Hastert will have no choice but to resign anyway. Here's why:

The Washington Post now has a second congressional staffer on the record corroborating Kirk Fordham's allegation that Hastert's chief of staff, Scott Palmer, knew of concerns about Mark Foley years ago. What's more, the article alleges that Palmer talked to Foley at the time about his contact with male pages:

The staff member said Hastert's chief of staff, Scott Palmer, met with the Florida Republican at the Capitol to discuss complaints about Foley's behavior toward pages. The alleged meeting occurred long before Hastert says aides in his office dispatched Rep. John M. Shimkus (R-Ill.) and the clerk of the House in November 2005 to confront Foley about troubling e-mails he had sent to a Louisiana boy.
Pressure will now build on Palmer to step aside--I wouldn't be surprised if he's gone by Monday.

But that won't be enough.

It won't be enough, because people will point to Hastert's unusual, almost uniquely close relationship with Palmer: Palmer's been the Speaker's chief of staff for nearly twenty years; knowledgeable observers characterize the relationship as extremely tight; and the two men live together during the week.

Here's The Hill on May 14, 2003:

Hastert and Palmer have known each other for 25 years--so long, in fact, that Palmer has a photo of Hastert's adult sons on his desk from when they were toddlers. The two men started working together on a day-to-day basis in 1987.


"There is no staffer on Capitol Hill that better understands Denny Hastert than Scott Palmer," [Rep. Jerry Weller (R-Ill.)] said. "Palmer is the one guy who has always been in Hastert's inner circle."
Here's the Associated Press on January 22, 1999:
At the top of any list of Hastert's kitchen cabinet is Scott Palmer, his longtime chief of staff, and deputy chief of staff Mike Stokke. John Feehery, a former aide who is returning, called the Hastert-Palmer alliance "almost a brother-type relationship."
And last but not least, here's the Chicago Tribune on May 29, 2005:
Palmer, a former employee of Aurora College who started with Hastert as a volunteer on a state legislative campaign, has been Hastert's chief of staff since he arrived in Washington in 1987. At the center of the speaker's operations, Palmer is described by some as Hastert's "alter ego."

"You cannot underestimate the relationship that the speaker has with Scott," said Hastert campaign spokesman John McGovern. "Scott is Denny's closest and most trusted adviser."


When in Washington, Palmer, Stokke and Hastert share a townhouse near the Capitol. And, like Hastert, his top aides maintain residences in Illinois--Palmer in Aurora and Stokke in Bloomington.

A typical night in Washington for Hastert is likely to end with a dinner with Palmer and Stokke at AV Ristorante Italiano, a red sauce Italian restaurant in a transitional neighborhood of Washington.
In short, Palmer isn't just Hastert's chief of staff. He is the Speaker's "alter ego"; a man with whom he has "almost a brother-type relationship"; whom he eats dinner with on a typical Washington night; and whom he shares a roof with during the work week.

Given this portrait, the notion that Palmer would have sat Foley down to discuss something as dicey and potentially explosive as the congressman's inappropriate behavior toward pages without informing Hastert seems beyond improbable. It seems ridiculous.

And it's not hard to see how that ridiculousness will be framed in the political debate: I mean, they live together for crying out loud. It's a refrain we're likely to hear a lot of in the coming days.

GOP officials may not have seen this twist coming. But they should have.

CONTRAPOSITIVE is edited by Dan Aibel. Dan's a playwright. He lives in New York City.