Scandal watch: Massa as the new Foley? An insider’s view

Eight days ago the political world took notice to a freshman congressman from the Finger Lakes region in New York. It was not due to his political savvy, his fundraising skills or any possible legislation. No, word of a scandal came out and now voters across the country know who Eric Massa is, and as each day goes by, we learn more and more about what he has done.

Sounds eerily familiar to 2006, when, as a House GOP leadership staffer, I watched the Mark Foley scandal unfold from the inside.

Leading up to Sept. 29, 2006, then-Rep. Mark Foley was a rank-and-file GOP Member. Known on the Hill for being friendly, easy to work with and someone who towed the party line on most legislation.

Rumors did exist on Rep. Foley’s sexuality, but they were nothing anyone feared that could hurt the party and were subsequently not a factor in his day-to-day interactions with his colleagues. Overall, most Americans had no clue who he was, much like Rep. Eric Massa.

In the days leading up to Foley’s resignation, an ABC News story detailing his elicit chats with former Hill pages, and the beginning of the end for Republicans, there were few but very quiet whispers. High-level staff was notified that Brian Ross was working on a story, that it involved Foley and that it might be big.

The news was kept in a tight-knit group of confidants, which waited to see what would come out of all this. I would assume the same situation has recently unfolded within the offices of Hoyer, Clyburn and Pelosi.

The mistake that was made was that leadership underestimated the situation and in doing so failed to take action to correct it and therefore felt trapped under the weight of the scandal. The day the scandal itself broke, House Republicans were forced into a firing squad, each taking aim at the other over who had dropped the ball. Each day, the story grew worse; more chats, more pages, more scandal and less transparency. This was a gift to the Democrats who had championed the right as a “Culture of Corruption.” Just when then needed it, Mark Foley proved to be the final nail in the coffin for the Republican Majority.

Now, having seen that situation firsthand, I look toward the Democratic leadership and how they are handling the Massa scandal. To say that this is being swept under the carpet or is not on their minds is ridiculous. The media outlets may try to limit coverage, but make no mistake; this is a liability that will remain the elephant in the room for sometime to come.

However, the way the Massa scandal is different from the Foley scandal is two points that should scare the hell out of the Democrats:

  1. The GOP had to deal with this story for roughly 30 days. After the election, no one really cared about Mark Foley, the damage was done and the House shifted power. Today, Speaker Nancy Pelosi has 235 days to try and save her job. That is a very long time for more shoes to drop, more allegations to surface and more questions that will need to be answered. And every time this comes back into the media, it will not go quietly, it will sit and fester causing more political damage to her party.
  2. The second point is what will cause the most pain for the Democrats. Eric Massa is talking to the press. If there was one good thing that Mark Foley did after resigning it was that he went into hiding. This is not the case for Massa. He has already proved he is willing to speak on the record, to sit in on hour-long shows and drop random facts about his case. The more allegations that arise, the more he will feel the need to be heard, each time bringing this case to the surface. In fact, it is only a matter of time until he publishes a book, appears on late night TV and maybe signs up for a reality show.

The Democrats should be thankful that there is a looming health care vote, without that the story would continue to be, “What did you know about Eric Massa and when did you know it?” This is a party that is already feeling the pressures of November. More savvy Members have decided to announce their retirement, while many continue to give un-sourced quotes regarding their dim hopes for saving a majority. And while some may take to the floor and rant about media coverage of Eric Massa, his is a story that sells.

What the Democratic House Leadership needs to understand is that the GOP Members (and their staff) who are still in office today remember how Democrats (and their staff) reacted to and most likely pushed the Foley story to reporters. They remember the damage a scandal like this can create and while there is blood in the water, there is no chance that this will come idling to a halt.

Mr. GOP, a former House leadership staffer, is writing under an assumed name to protect his identity.