Who is Scott Palmer?
He is Speaker Hastert's chief of staff, which makes him the key player in the what-did-Hastert-know-and-when-did-he-know-it drama. Scott Palmer has issued a statement flatly denying that Kirk Fordham, Mark Foley's former chief of staff, warned him that Foley was crossing the line with pages long before Foley's inappropriate email surfaced. Palmer's denial of Fordham's headline-grabbing claim is the thread Hastert's Speakership is now hanging by.
In Hastert's brief, evasive press conference on Thursday, sharp reporters immediately zeroed in on Palmer's role in the Foley information flow. Did Hastert leap to the defense of his chief of staff's honor in the crucial credibility contest with Kirk Fordham? Did he say I know Scott Palmer and I know he's telling the truth? No. He avoided every question with Palmer's name in it. Hastert obviously does not want to talk about Scott Palmer.
If Fordham did warn Palmer about Foley a long time ago, what are the odds that Palmer did not tell Hastert? As close to zero as you can get. Many chiefs of staff are close, very close, to their bosses on Capitol Hill. But none are closer than Scott Palmer is to Denny Hastert. They don't just work together all day, they live together.
There are plenty of odd couple Congressmen who have roomed together on Capitol Hill, but I have never heard of a chief of staff who rooms with his boss. It is beyond unusual. But it must have its advantages. Anything they forget to tell each other at the office, they have until bedtime to catch up on. And then there's breakfast for anything they forgot to tell each other before falling asleep. And then there's all day at the office. Hastert and Palmer are together more than any other co-workers in the Congress.
For now, Hastert is holding on to the Speaker's office because the Republicans don't have anyone in the leadership who is squeaky clean enough to take the job. Every one of them is tainted by the Foley scandal or the Abramoff scandal or the DeLay scandal or, like Henry Hyde, has some ancient sexual indiscretion in his background. But if the press cracks Scott Palmer's denial of Kirk Fordham's bombshell, then Denny Hastert is going to have to pass the gavel to some freshman we've never heard of.