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Foley-Page E-Mails Not News to GOP

October 01, 2006|Chuck Neubauer | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — House Republicans knew for months that Rep. Mark Foley (R-Fla.) was exchanging what were described as "over-friendly" e-mails with a 16-year-old former House page, they acknowledged Saturday.

Foley resigned Friday after news reports revealed that he had sent another male teenage former House page messages that were explicitly sexual. House leaders said they had not been aware of those messages.

With midterm elections weeks away -- and Democrats trying to capture the House from Republican control -- GOP leaders went out of their way to condemn Foley's behavior.

"The improper communications between Rep. Mark Foley and former House congressional pages is unacceptable and abhorrent," House Republican leaders said in a statement issued late Saturday. "It is an obscene breach of trust. His immediate resignation must now be followed by the full weight of the criminal justice system."

Top House officials conceded that they had been alerted as early as last fall to concerns about Foley and his contacts with a 16-year-old former House page, but said they had discussed it with the congressman and were told that his relationship with the page was that of a mentor. They told him to cease his contacts with the page.

House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) reported that he was unaware that Foley had been sending sexually explicit messages until some messages to pages were leaked to the media last week. "No one was ever made aware of any sexually explicit e-mail or text messages at any time," Hastert's office said Saturday in releasing what it described as a preliminary report on his contacts in the matter.

ABC News reported Friday that it had obtained copies of instant messages to current and former male pages in which Foley made numerous explicit sexual references.

In one exchange Foley asked: "You in your boxers, too? .... Well strip down and get relaxed."

Foley resigned his seat within hours of being asked about the messages. The six-term representative, chairman of a congressional caucus on crimes against children, was the author of legislation to strengthen penalties against pedophiles and child pornographers. He was considered a lock for reelection. Now Republicans are scrambling to find a replacement candidate.

Democrats were quick to criticize the GOP leadership, with Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) demanding an Ethics Committee investigation, which the leadership agreed to.

House GOP leaders said in their statement Saturday that they were asking for a full review of the incident by the House Page Board and were creating a toll-free tip line for confidential reports of concern. They also said they had asked the Ethics Committee not only to investigate the Foley case but to promulgate rules on contacts between members of Congress and the pages.

In its preliminary report, Hastert's office said it had been told twice of concerns about Foley's e-mail contact with a former page.

The first time was last fall, when aides to Rep. Rodney Alexander (R-La.) told Hastert's staff that Foley had been in e-mail contact with a former page whom Alexander had sponsored.

Hastert's office said it had not been told the text of the e-mails and referred Alexander to the House clerk, whose office runs the page program. Alexander's office declined to show the e-mails to the clerk, saying they wanted to protect the family's privacy, according to the Hastert statement. Alexander's staff told the clerk that the e-mails were not sexual but characterized them as "over-friendly," Hastert's office said. In the e-mails, the 52-year-old Foley asked the page how he fared in Hurricane Katrina and asked for a photograph, among other topics.

Jeff Trandahl, the clerk at the time, and Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.), chairman of the House Page Board, met with Foley and told him that the parents wanted Foley to "immediately cease any communication with the young man," the report said. Foley told them he was just mentoring the page.

The clerk later told Hastert's office that they had spoken with Foley and taken corrective action, according to the report.

According to Hastert's press secretary, Ron Bonjean, office staffers did not inform Hastert. But another congressman said Saturday that he had personally told Hastert months later about what had been described as "over-friendly" e-mails. (Hastert does not recall the conversation, his office's report said.)

"Rodney Alexander brought to my attention the existence of e-mails between Mark Foley and a former page of Mr. Alexander's," said Rep. Thomas M. Reynolds (R-N.Y.), chairman of the Republican Congressional Campaign Committee. "Despite the fact that I had not seen the e-mails in question, and Mr. Alexander told me that the parents didn't want the matter pursued, I told the [House] speaker of the conversation Mr. Alexander had with me," Reynolds said.

Hastert's report said: "While the speaker does not explicitly recall this conversation, he has no reason to dispute Congressman Reynolds' recollection that he reported to him on the problem and its resolution."

House Majority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) said Saturday that he had heard of the e-mails five months ago but was told the matter had been taken care of.

Boehner spokesman Kevin Madden said Alexander had approached the majority leader five months ago and told him that Foley had had an e-mail exchange with a page. The conversation "did not raise an alarm," said Madden, "because Alexander had assured him that he had talked to the parents and they did not wish to pursue it and they did not believe there was need to pursue it further."

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