Congressman Mel Reynolds, the Democrat convicted of 12 charges, including sex with 16-year-old Beverly Heard and asking her to take pornographic photographs of a 15-year old, was indicted on August 21, 1994. ABC, the current scourge of congressional teen-sex scandals, reported nothing – until Reynolds was convicted a year later, on August 23, 1995. In fact, on May 13, 1994, ABC featured Reynolds in a "Person of the Week" speaking out in favor of two Chicago ladies fighting child molesters:
Peter Jennings: " Their local congressman is certainly on their side. He also wants to make child molesting a federal offense."
Rep. Mel Reynolds (D), Illinois: "These ladies really illustrate how being active in your community can really make a difference."
Jennings: " If the law is to change, it will need the support of many more state legislators, which means more mothers will have to get involved."
ABC’s World News Tonight story on Reynolds being convicted on August 23, 1995, didn’t have any fury about how Democrats could allow this sexual predator in their caucus. For their part, ABC seemed more suffused with sadness than outrage:
Diane Sawyer, substitute anchor: "In Chicago, Congressman Mel Reynolds remains free on his own recognizance after his conviction last night of having sex with a minor. His lawyers say they'll appeal. In the meantime, the Illinois Democrat will continue to pick up a paycheck, as ABC's Ron Claiborne reports."
Ron Claiborne: "In the end, it was Mel Reynolds' own words that led to his conviction on charges of having sex with a 16-year-old girl. Jurors said the most powerful evidence against him was police tape recordings of his intimate phone conversations with Beverly Heard, now 19."
Jeslyn Cipriani, Juror: "It was the tapes, the transcripts that we heard, Mel and Beverly talking."
Claiborne: "At one point on the tapes, which were made with Heard's cooperation, she and Reynolds discussed what underwear he prefers. He also uses explicit language as he talks about having sex with her and with himself. On the stand, Reynolds denied ever having sex with Heard. He insisted their conversations were only phone sex fantasies. But the jury convicted him of all 12 felony counts, including sexual abuse and sexual assault. He was also found guilty of soliciting child pornography for asking Heard for a nude photo of a 15-year-old girl; and of obstruction of justice, for trying to get Heard to recant her accusations.
"The convictions likely end Reynolds' promising political career. He had risen from a childhood of poverty in rural Mississippi to Harvard, Oxford Rhodes scholar and to Congress."
Gary LaPaille, Illinois Democratic Chairman: "He was amassing a lot of friends. He was amassing a good political operation. And he was standing out above the crowd."
Claiborne: "Reynolds now faces a minimum mandatory four-year prison sentence. But the felony convictions do not mean he must give up his House seat."
Dan White, Illinois Election Board: "Only on a vote of Congress could he be expelled. And that takes a two-thirds vote of Congress to do so."
Claiborne: "Expulsion from the House is rare. Michael Myers of Pennsylvania, who was convicted of taking bribes in the 1980 Abscam investigation, is the only congressman to be removed from office since the Civil War. Today, House Speaker Gingrich said he would not press for a vote to expel Reynolds.
Rep. Newt Gingrich, Speaker of the House: "He hasn't even been-- he hasn't even been sentenced yet. So I think we have to wait and see."
Claiborne: "Traditionally, Congress members convicted of serious crimes do resign. But Reynolds, who is said to be $150,000 in debt and broke, may try to hang onto his seat and the $133,000 a year salary that goes with it. Ron Claiborne, ABC News, Chicago."
Do you sense that the political atmosphere surrounding Reynolds (including the puzzling wait-and-see Gingrich) was a little different back then? ABC had no mention of Mel Reynolds when Bill Clinton pardoned him in 2001.