Kolbe Charges Smell Like a Witch Hunt

Is the GOP Trying to Discredit Kolbe Because He Says He Acted on a Complaint about Foley in 2000?

The alleged victim told NBC News that “he had a ‘blast’ on the trip and did not report anything improper to his parents or any House officials after the trip. He said he has a favorable impression of the page program to this day and likes Kolbe.”

The FBI has launched an investigation into the behavior of retiring GOP Rep. Jim Kolbe of Arizona, who is openly gay, toward a teenaged boy on a camping trip in 1996.

Details are sketchy but based on the news accounts so far, the allegations seem a bit suspicious. For one thing, and this is crucial, the former page who was the alleged victim denies that anything untoward happened.

While I am completely unsympathetic toward gay Republicans, even those who are out — as Stephen Kriz put it in these pages yesterday, “a gay person being a Republican is like a chicken voting for Colonel Sanders” — we cannot allow the Foley scandal to escalate into a witch hunt in which people are accused of improper behavior simply because they are gay.

Why would someone level false charges against Kolbe? Last week, Kolbe inserted himself into the Foley scandal when he announced that he had received a complaint in 2000 from a page about improper behavior from Rep. Mark Foley, and that he took steps that led to “corrective action” against Foley then. This addition to the timeline of the Foley scandal runs counter to the GOP House leadership’s narrative that they were only informed about Foley’s penchant for teenaged boys within the last year.

It is possible — even likely — that someone in the GOP had these charges brought against Kolbe in order to shut him up.

Here are the facts that are available today:

The camping trip was part of a tour of the Grand Canyon National Park by Rep. Kolbe in the summer of 1996. After some official business, the congressman was joined by five members of his staff, his sister, two officials from the National Park Services and two 17-year-old boys who had recently served as congressional pages.

The charges last week came from an anonymous source who was on the trip. Based on some parsing of the reporting, I believe we can eliminate both former pages, Kolbe’s sister and one of the park service officials as the source. That means the complaint apparently came from one of the five Kolbe staffers or, more likely, the other park official:

NBC News interviewed several people who were on the trip, and their accounts vary. One participant, who requested anonymity, said he was uncomfortable with the attention Kolbe paid to one of the former pages. He was “creeped out by it,” he said, adding that there was a lot of “fawning, petting and touching” on the teenager’s arms, shoulders and back by Kolbe.

One of the park service employees vouched for Kolbe:

Gary Cummins, the deputy superintendent of the Grand Canyon National Park at the time — and who also was on the trip — said he did not see anything inappropriate take place.

The former page who was not allegedly the focus of Kolbe’s attention sounds like a real weasel:

NBC also interviewed the two former pages, who are now in their late 20s. One of them [who was apparently the alleged victim] said that Kolbe was a gentleman and never acted in an improper fashion. He recalled that the pair spent time in Kolbe’s house at one point — and briefly were alone with him on the trip — and that Kolbe always acted professionally and decently.

The other would not comment on Kolbe’s behavior during the trip or characterize it in any way.

“I don’t want to get into the details,” [said the weasel]. “I just don’t want to get into this… because I might possibly be considered for a job in the administration.”

However, the former page — who is the one to whom Kolbe allegedly paid special attention — said he had a “blast” on the trip and did not report anything improper to his parents or any House officials after the trip. He said he has a favorable impression of the page program to this day and likes Kolbe.

In reporting by CNN, the anonymous source confirmed that nothing sexual occurred between Kolbe and the page:

One person who was on the 1996 trip told CNN he felt Kolbe was overly friendly with one of the former pages. He said there was “hugging.” But the source said he saw no sexual activity and also noted that everyone slept nearby and in the open because of the extreme heat. He told CNN he would be talking with the FBI on Friday.

CNN agreed not to identify the person, because he was concerned about future government employment…

Even if it turns out to be true that Kolbe was guilty of “fawning, petting and touching” the boy, that is not illegal if it did not cross the line into sexual behavior.

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