Hearing Echoes of Washington Scandals

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NPR Senior News Analyst Daniel Schorr looks back on many years of Washington scandals — usually involving sex or money.

DANIEL SCHORR: Foley's folly, the sexually suggestive messages that Representative Mark Foley sent to one or more of his former Congressional pages, is only the latest manifestation of Lord Atkins's axiom that power tends to corrupt.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

NPR senior news analyst, Daniel Schorr.

SCHORR: In the case of out Congress, the corruption's of two general sorts -money and sex. The money corruption hardly needs to be spelled out. Just mention names like Duke Cunningham, Tom DeLay and Jack Abramoff. Trading votes on pending pork has become a routine part of the legislative process. But the big ones are remembered, like the 1981 sting operation called Abscam, in which a senator and six representatives were caught in a trap when they thought they were being handed cash by an Arab sheikh.

In the case of scandals with sexual overtones, there was, for example, representative Wayne Hays of Ohio, exposed in 1976 as having put his mistress on his official payroll. She later admitted she couldn't type, but typing was apparently not part of her duties.

The sex linked scandal that I remember best involved Wilbur Mills, the powerful chairman of the powerful Ways and Means Committee. He was found in 1974 around a tidal basin with an Argentine striptease dancer. And like Representative Foley today, he attributed it to alcoholism. Then there was Senator Robert Packwood, in 1992 accused of sexual harassment by 10 women.

In all of these episodes, there was a sense of lawmakers, once ensconced in office by the voters, acting as though they were beyond the reach of rules meant for others, from parking in no-parking zones to making advances to 16-year-olds. There is a sense of you can't touch me, until some scandal explodes too outrageous to ignore. But if the past is any guide, power will continue to corrupt and perhaps absolutely.

This is Daniel Schorr.

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Page Program Has Seen Scandal Before

The scandal surrounding former Rep. Mark Foley has brought new attention to a program that brings dozens of high-school students to Capitol Hill each year.

Path to Pagedom: To qualify, pages must be high school juniors, at least 16 years old, have good grades and be sponsored by their local representative or senator.

Job Description: Pages are essentially glorified gofers. They fetch members for votes and hand-deliver messages, bills and amendments to and fro. For their service, which is limited to one semester, they earn the equivalent of an annual salary of between $18,800 (for House pages) and $20,500 (for Senate pages). They live in dormitories in Capitol Hill and attend mandatory, early-morning classes before heading off to the Hill.

Page Fashion: Pages are required to pay for their own uniforms — navy jackets, dark gray slacks or skirts, long-sleeved white shirts and black shoes.

Origins: The program can be traced to silver-tongued statesman Daniel Webster, who appointed the first Senate page in 1829. The first House pages followed in 1842.

Where Are They Now: Several pages have later returned to Capitol Hill as lawmakers — including such current senior members of Congress as Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-CN), Rep. John Dingell (D-MI) and Rep. Tom Davis (R-VA).

Page Problems: Despite its long history, the program was nearly eliminated two decades ago. In 1983, a congressional investigation turned up evidence that two House members, Reps. Daniel B. Crane and Gerry Studds, and a senior House employee had engaged in sexual liaisons with pages.

Crane, a Republican from Illinois, admitted to a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old female page. He was censured and voted out of office in 1984. Studds, a Democrat from Massachusetts, said the sexual affair he had with a 17-year-old male page was consensual, and accused the House ethics committee of violating his privacy. Studds was also censured, but won re-election the following year and served in Congress until his retirement in 1996.

In the wake of the investigation, Congress overhauled the page program and adopted new protections. A dormitory for pages was created near the Capitol, and the minimum age of participation was raised from 14 to 16.

What Now: The future of the program is once again threatened. In the wake of the Foley revelations, several lawmakers have called for a suspension or end to the 150-year-old congressional tradition.

Maria Godoy

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