Brace yourself for the crescendo in the vulgar procession of congressional sex-scandal witnesses. Arizona's elusive Representative Jim Kolbe must eventually appear before the committee investigating the moral corruption, click his red pumps together and testify about the grooming of high school students by the very men elected to lead the nation.

What's the matter with Kansas, Toto? That's easy: The party that co-opted family values as a Republican virtue overlooked and enabled the sleazy antics of skells like Congressmen Mark Foley and Kolbe.

For the moment, the investigation by the House ethics committee plods along as if it were a nickel-and-dime corruption exposé. For the time being, skeptics draw a distinction between the virtual sex of instant messaging and hard-core molestation.


Congressional pages

But the cover-up of Foley's disgraceful courting of teenage boys will turn out to be every bit as degenerate as anything we've reported about the Catholic Church. Instead of bishops protecting priests, we will eventually see the details of how Republican leadership in the United States House of Representatives sheltered their own perverts instead of protecting the high school students whom the sick ones found so tempting.

The key to when Foley's sordid behavior began, and therefore when the cover-up began, is Arizona's Kolbe.

And while the ethics committee is nailing down the timeline with Kolbe, it needs to ask him about his own behavior. These questions linger because the congressman is on vacation and generally unavailable.


It is time to drag Kolbe's bitch ass home, put him under oath and ask: Whom did you touch and when did you touch him?

After the abject failure of President George W. Bush and his Republican host, it is almost anticlimactic that child molestation is proving to be the straw that breaks the elephant's back. Voters could have picked: weapons of mass destruction, civil war in Iraq, the secret, warrant-less wiretapping of American citizens, the Patriot Act, the torture of prisoners, Osama bin Laden running loose, a record deficit, corrupt congressmen Duke Cunningham, Robert Ney, and Tom DeLay, and corrupting lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

It is ironic that the polls show voters are responding overwhelmingly to the disgraced Mark Foley's grooming of a high school page who served in Congress. After all, the Republicans pounded family values so hard in the past several elections you would assume that all Democrats voted from the Sodom and Gomorrah zip code.

But irony is the refuge of college sophomores.

The bottom line is that this very same Republican Party and its Christian allies mounted partisan efforts to put anti-gay rights initiatives on 11 state ballots during the last presidential election. Gay Republicans might spin, horrified, in their closet, yet they line up to support such efforts. Foley himself voted for the infamous Defense of Marriage Act in 1996 while posing as a heterosexual.

The hypocritical posturing by gay Republicans is so commonplace that it is no extraordinary moment in Washington, D.C., for the most rabid, homophobic senators and representatives to have key staff positions filled by gay and lesbian assistants.

Kolbe finally came out of the closet in 1996 because a national gay magazine, The Advocate, decided to focus its outrage on the Arizona congressman's two-faced position on DOMA.

In the upcoming November election, Arizona voters must consider Proposition 107 — which would not only enact a state constitutional ban on gay marriage, something that is already illegal in the state, but would also eliminate health and financial benefits that normally accrue to a civil union or couples living together.

Republican leadership chooses to legislate family values for the rest of us by attacking consenting, same-sex adults. This is a wedge issue that is used to motivate the Republican base.

At the same time, the Republican leadership is cynically protecting not homosexuals, but elected perverts within their ranks.

There is one standard for Republican leadership and another for the rest of us.

Kolbe's role in the page scandal gives the lie to the Republican family-values hustle: The disgraced Foley wasn't an aberration, he was part of a sick pattern. And so was Kolbe.

Almost as soon as the ethics committee began investigating the history of Foley's relationship with the teenage pages, Kolbe surfaced in reports attempting to determine when the House leadership became aware of the problem.

The initial focus was the Louisiana teenager whose parents complained to their congressman in 2005.

Yet Kolbe admitted that an Arizona page had complained to him about correspondence from Foley that made the teenager uncomfortable as far back as 2000-2001.

Kolbe claimed he passed on the complaint to the Republican Clerk of the House.

This is important. Kolbe moved the timeline on the Foley scandal back several years from the Louisiana incident. When the Louisiana matter surfaced last year, it was hardly the first complaint about Foley that Republican leadership had in their files.

But Kolbe's behavior is also very odd because it is so passive.

Did he follow up with Foley directly? No.

Did he follow up with the Clerk of the House? No.

Did he follow up with House leadership? No.

Did he follow up with the Arizona page whom Kolbe himself had appointed? No.

Kolbe told the national press that because he did not hear from the page again, he presumed the issue was resolved.

This is a very odd, very passive response from a congressman who was first elected following a bruising, vicious campaign in which he attacked the Democratic incumbent Jim McNulty as not strong enough on the child-sex-abuse front.

Following the kidnapping of a young Tucson child by a convicted sex offender, Kolbe's Democratic opponent co-sponsored legislation to help authorities track paroled convicts with sex-abuse records.

Kolbe lashed out at Congressman McNulty: "The most cynically brazen, hypocritical thing a congressman could do . . . to attempt to take advantage of a tragic incident in the community."

Then married and in the closet, Kolbe declared, "The subject of crime and crimes against children is close to my heart and has been for a long time."

Kolbe said he supported the death penalty in such cases, unlike McNulty.

Perhaps Kolbe's tepid response to the Arizona page who found Foley's e-mails unsettling in 2000-2001 can be understood in an exchange in the Congressional Record that happened at approximately the same time.

"I am sure I speak for all the pages when I say that one of the favorite members is the gentleman from Florida [Foley], who never fails to stop by the page desk and inquire about the pages and spend a little time talking to them," Kolbe said on June 9, 2000.

Foley returned the air kiss.

"Let me pay back the compliment you have just given me," replied Foley. Then he praised Kolbe "for his dedication to the page program" after the scandal erupted.

This exchange, reported nationally, somehow never managed to find its way into the flaccid coverage of the page scandal by the Arizona Republic. Despite maintaining a bureau in the nation's capital, despite Kolbe's evolving role in the scandal, the local daily has virtually ignored the breaking coverage of the Washington Post, the New York Times, wire services . . . well, you get the picture.

The Republic, where Kolbe's brother was once the star political columnist before his death from cancer, did follow reports that Kolbe selected two 17-year-old pages to go on a government-sponsored camping trip at the Grand Canyon along with members of his office and even his sister. How could it not, since a legal file had been opened.

Although the pages did not complain about Kolbe's behavior, one witness said he was "creeped out by it," because of the congressman's "fawning, petting and touching" of the body of one of the teens.

On October 18, the Washington Post reported that Kolbe's behavior had become the target of the House ethics committee looking into the Foley scandal. In addition to the witness' complaint concerning the camping trip, Kolbe's actions with another page had been questioned — this time by the page himself. The page had come forward alleging that, when he was 16, he was "uncomfortable with a particular social encounter" with Kolbe involving physical contact.

Like a lot of scoundrels, Congressman Mark Foley, once exposed, immediately tucked into the Kennedy-heir fetal position, checked himself into rehab and declared himself an alcoholic.

Because the appalling Mark Foley is a diva who simply cannot get off the stage, he decided last week to identify the Catholic priest who molested him as a young altar boy decades ago.

Because Anthony Mercieca, 72, the appalling priest who molested Foley, is also a diva, he granted interviews to any news organization who could reach him on the previously unknown Maltese island of Gozo.

In short order, the various media interviewed Mercieca, who admitted that he and the young Foley skinny-dipped in a Florida lake. The priest gave Foley massages, and the two visited saunas naked.

"It's not something you call, I mean, rape or penetration or anything like that, you know. It was just fondling," explained the priest.

Of course, there is one evening the priest claims he cannot remember clearly.

"I had a nervous breakdown and was taking some pills and alcohol, and maybe I did something he didn't like," offered Mercieca in his own elderly fetal position.

I believe the priest when he claims the events he remembers weren't rape.

No, it was what child-abuse authorities call grooming.

We "loved each other like brothers," explained the clueless Mercieca.

By all accounts (including that of another altar boy who was in the same church in the mid-'60s with Mercieca and Foley), the priest was popular and interested in the teenage boys. He paid attention to them.

Mercieca spent a lot of time developing the friendship of the boys.

"He took us to the movies and would tell us to call him 'Tony.' He taught us to drive his '57 Chevy," the former altar boy told Florida's Sarasota Herald Tribune. "He taught us to drive a stick-shift in a light-blue Volkswagen, driving around the church parking lot."

In many ways, the relationship between the priest and the altar boys foreshadowed and mirrored the kind of relationship both Foley and Kolbe had with the pages in Congress.

The two congressmen were readily accessible to these high school pages who were always impressed that the representatives were actually paying attention to them, having them to dinner, shooting pool with them, writing letters of recommendation.

This past weekend, a page who had not come forward until now added more detail on how friendship segued into kink.

The page, who requested anonymity from the Washington Post, recounted on Sunday how the messages took on a different tone as soon as the ambitious teenager finished the page program and sought employment.

Foley soon came knocking with a job offer "because I was a hot boy." A couple of years later, when the former page was scheduled to return to Washington, Foley wrote: "You could always stay at my place. I'm always here, I'm always lonely, and I'm always up for oral sex."

Kolbe also offered his Washington, D.C., residence as a crash pad for groups of young pages. In fact, when you see the sort of solicitous relationship that Kolbe cultivated with the youngsters, it is not surprising that he invited two high school boys on the government-sponsored tour of the Grand Canyon.

The Grand Canyon camping trip and all of the touching are only shocking when looked at in terms of normal adult/high school student relationships.

For the sake of argument, let's just accept for a second the fundamentalist Christian theory that homosexuality isn't something you are born with, it is something you choose, or, in the case of victims of molestation, something that is visited upon you.

This is all the more reason why you do not want teachers or coaches or congressmen "grooming" kids.

Like Catholic bishops who preferred to keep child molestation by priests quiet instead of taking more appropriate steps, Republican leadership moved with the Foley information in ways political rather than moral.

As the charade unravels, you'll forgive those of us who ask the party of family values: How's that working for you?

When ABC and Brian Ross confronted Congressman Foley, he abruptly resigned on September 29.

Everyone wanted to know what happened and when.

The House Committee on Ethics quickly learned that a Louisiana page had complained to his congressman about inappropriate e-mails from Congressman Foley in the fall of '05. Foley wanted a picture of the 16-year-old, and he wanted to give the boy a birthday gift.

The Louisiana congressman contacted the staff of the Speaker of the House.

No one involved contacted the Page Board.

Instead, top political operatives of the party sought to avert any fallout. Majority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Republican Campaign Chairman Tom Reynolds (R-New York) were brought into the loop. Although both claim they informed the Speaker of the House, Dennis Hastert, he contradicts them and denies any memory of the events.

At one point, Congressman John Shimkus (R-Illinois), who is head of the House Page Board, and the Clerk of the House, John Trandahl, met with Foley regarding his request for a 16-year-old's photograph. Foley's e-mails to the high school student were excused as a misunderstanding.

Today the entire Republican leadership of the House claims they are just as surprised as the rest of us when it turns out that Foley also engaged in e-mail porn with a second high school page.

And here's what stinks about this explanation.

First, we all know now that legislative aide Kirk Fordham said he went to Speaker of the House Hastert's staff back in 2003 about his concerns regarding Foley's hitting on the young pages. Keep in mind that Fordham was in a unique position to know the truth as Foley's chief of staff. Hastert's people claim they do not remember Fordham warning them, just as Hastert himself does not remember warnings from Congressmen Boehner and Reynolds.

Second, the Clerk of the House, John Trandahl, who joined Congressman Shimkus in the '05 meeting with Foley regarding the Louisiana page, is the very same clerk whom Congressman Kolbe alerted back in 2000-2001 regarding an Arizona page. As long as six years ago, Trandahl knew that Foley was acting inappropriately with high school students.

On October 19, Trandahl informed the House ethics committee that he'd known about Foley for some time. More to the point, the New York Times reported that Trandahl "periodically advised senior Republican leadership aides of complaints about Representative Mark Foley's behavior on Capitol Hill."

A second source now confirms Trandahl's account.

It is obvious that the Republican leadership had repeated warnings about Foley. Instead of disciplining the creep, they ducked the issue hoping to keep things quiet. Instead of protecting these high school students, they protected their flank.

Ask yourself what would happen to any teacher caught soliciting a 16-year-old for a photograph, let alone engaging in smarmy conversational gambits with students over the Internet.

Now that the Foley sleaze is public, nearly half a dozen more pages have come forward.

Congressman Kolbe's behavior — his lax handling of the Arizona page's complaint, his camping trip with 17-year-olds at the Grand Canyon, his alleged physical contact with another page who felt uncomfortable — is now under committee scrutiny.

With all of this voyeuristic candy in front of us, Arizona voters might want to remember something else as they consider Proposition 107's attempt to strong-arm the state into the family-values camp.

Gerry Studds passed away October 14 in the middle of the Foley/Kolbe fiasco at the age of 69.

Studds was the gay Massachusetts congressman who was censured after he was exposed for having an affair with a teenage House page in the early '70s.

Studds eventually rehabilitated himself, settled down and married another man in Massachusetts.

When the former congressman died, his surviving spouse was denied Studds' pension because of the federal DOMA that both Kolbe and Foley endorsed.

Don't miss this point, which may be the most important of this sorry saga: These two hypocrites — who appear to be almost as guilty as Studds of inappropriate behavior with pages — were such party hacks that they voted against their own kind.

These two confessed homosexuals voted in lockstep to penalize gays and lesbians for committing to mature, loving relationships. That it ought to be the other way around wasn't even obvious to them.

Gays and lesbians who behave like adults get stripped of their rights and their financial security. Those who behave like Foley and Kolbe get elected to Congress.

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