I hate having to defend Hastert, partly because he’s a jackass and partly because it’s bad form to defend anyone in any way associated with a child molestation scandal, no matter how much the facts are in their favor. But I think he’s getting a raw deal here, at least based on what we know thus far.

Let’s back up. Two strands of Foley e-mail messages have emerged in the past two days. One was the explicit, super-pervy “take off your boxers” strand that ABC revealed yesterday. The other was published the day before and was not explicit. It involved him asking a kid from Louisiana how he was holding up during Katrina, whether he had fun at a conference, what he wants for his birthday, and then telling him to “send me an email pic of you as well.” Which, I think we can all agree, is odd — the kid himself was apparently “freaked out” by it — but not something upon which we’d base an accusation of pedophilia without further evidence. In fact, as I said yesterday, I saw the Blotter item on Thursday afternoon and didn’t post on it because it “[s]ounded reasonably innocuous to me.” Turns out it wasn’t, but based on what I knew then, it didn’t necessarily suggest something untoward.

Flash forward to today. Tom Reynolds, the head of the National Republican Congressional Committee, says he told Hastert about the e-mails last year. Last year? Denny Hastert’s let a degenerate child predator roam the halls of Congress for a year without moving on it? Well, not exactly. Because as tomorrow’s page one of the New York Times reveals, Hastert apparently was made privy to only one of those two strands. And it wasn’t the one Democrats wish wish wish it was:

Aides to the speaker and other Congressional Republican leaders said that the messages brought to their attention — described as “over friendly” — were much less explicit than others that came to light after ABC News disclosed the first e-mail correspondence. In those messages, Mr. Foley asked about the well-being of the boy, a Monroe, La., resident, after Hurricane Katrina and requested a photograph.

He wrote: “How are you weathering the hurricane. . .are you safe. . .send me a pic of you as well.”

“No one in the speaker’s office was made aware of the sexually explicit text messages which press reports suggest had been directed to another individual until they were revealed in the press and on the Internet this week,” the statement from Mr. Hastert’s office said.

Captain Ed is outraged that Hastert’s office yesterday denied knowing about Foley’s e-mail exchanges, and cites this paragraph from Friday’s WaPo:

It was not immediately clear what actions Hastert took. His spokesman had said earlier that the speaker did not know of the sexually charged online exchanges between Foley and the boy.

Yeah, I didn’t know of the sexually charged online exchanges when I declined to post that Blotter item on Thursday, either. You don’t throw a guy under the bus on the most serious accusation there is in American culture without a little better evidence than “send me a pic of you.”

As for what actions Hastert took, the Times fills in the blanks. FYI, “Alexander” is Rep. Rodney Alexander, the Congressman the Louisiana page worked for.

Mr. Alexander called the boy’s parents, who, he said Saturday, told him they did not want to pursue the matter but wanted Mr. Foley to stop.

Mr. Alexander’s office also contacted staff members in Mr. Hastert’s office for guidance on what to do and. According to the speaker’s account, his aides put Mr. Alexander’s staff in contact with the clerk of the House, who oversees the page program. The clerk, who at the time was Jeff Trandahl, referred the matter to Representative John Shimkus, the Illinois Republican who is the chairman of the House Page Board, in late 2005, a spokesman for Mr. Shimkus said.

Mr. Trandahl and Mr. Shimkus confronted Mr. Foley, who insisted he was simply acting as a mentor to the former page, officials said. He assured them nothing inappropriate had occurred.

“They asked Foley about the email,” the speaker’s statement said. “Congressman Shimkus and the clerk made it clear that to avoid even the appearance of impropriety and at the request of the parents, Congressman Foley was to immediately cease any communication with the young man.”

Did Hastert do enough? In bizarro world, where he and Foley are both Democrats, yes. In our world — no, not nearly enough!

To be clear: if it turns out that Hastert or Boehner or whoever else knew about the sexual e-mails or knew that Foley had a history of being “overfriendly” with pages and chose not to investigate that, they’re done. But if this was the first they’d heard of it, then I think it’s time to send the firing squad home. High moral dudgeon over child abuse is a lovely thing, but we’ve got to be a little fair here.

Now that we’ve dispensed with that, go read this post at Moran’s and pay special attention to Update II. Who was ABC’s source for those e-mails? And for how long, exactly, was that source sitting on them while filthy Mark Foley was busy ogling the pages?

Update: Clarice Feldman’s piece on this is up at the American Thinker. Read it.

Update: Wow. At the rate we’re going here, the left is going to end up being hurt more by this scandal than the right is.

Update: Maguire notes that dKos was awfully far ahead of the curve in picking this story up and says he smells a rat. Meanwhile, according to Fox, Nancy Pelosi has issued a statement calling on the GOP House leadership to answer — under oath — what they knew and when they knew it.