Foley Scandal Rattles GOP In Congress

Rep. Mark Foley, R-Fla.
AP (file)

There is no getting around it: The unraveling of the page scandal could be the undoing of some House Republican leaders, if not the party's hold on Congress, CBS News correspondent Gloria Borger reports.

Congressman Mark Foley has left the premises to undergo rehab for what he called "alcoholism and related behavioral problems" as the FBI and Florida officials begin investigating his contacts with a young male page.

But on Capitol Hill, one senior House Republican tells CBS News that this scandal "could be the congressional equivalent of Katrina."

"Our base is moral conservatives, and we look like a bunch of hypocrites who just didn't want another scandal before the election," he adds.

Today, Republicans named a new candidate to replace Foley, but winning is a long shot. Increasingly, angry Republicans are asking if their leaders knew about this matter more than a year ago — and if they circled the wagons as part of a cover-up to keep a seat?

Republican Shelly Capito, R-W.Va., is demanding an answer. "Certainly, I'm outraged," she says. She's one of the three members in charge of Capitol Hill pages and says she was kept in the dark.

"If there was a concerted effort to keep Mr. Foley in Congress for whatever reason, political or otherwise, then I think that will come to light in the FBI investigation," Capito says.

Republican politicians could be asking the toughest questions.

Some religious conservatives have House Speaker Dennis Hastert in their sights. The speaker defended himself today, saying he didn't know of the more explicit e-mails until last week.

But Republicans ask how their leaders could have been so passive about a Foley e-mail to a young male page that even the leaders themselves described as "overly friendly."

"I mean, it's just an inappropriate relationship. It should have set off signal bells right from the start," says Vin Weber, a former House Republican leader.

There should have been signal bells — particularly since Foley chaired the House caucus working against sexual predators.

And there's an irony here, too. If Republicans had informed Democrats and law enforcement of this matter, they probably could have protected themselves politically, and a serious investigation would already be under way.