GOP wrestles with Foley fallout
House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., was notified early this year of inappropriate e-mails from former Rep. Mark Foley, R-Fla., to a 16-year-old page...
House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., was notified early this year of inappropriate e-mails from former Rep. Mark Foley, R-Fla., to a 16-year-old page, a top GOP House member said Saturday — contradicting the speaker's assertions that he learned of concerns about Foley only last week.
Hastert did not dispute the claims of Rep. Thomas Reynolds, R-N.Y., and his office confirmed that some of Hastert's top aides knew last year that Foley had been ordered to cease contact with the boy and to treat all pages respectfully.
Reynolds, chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, became the second senior House Republican to say that Hastert has known of Foley's contacts for months, prompting Democratic attacks about the GOP leadership's inaction. Foley abruptly resigned his seat Friday.
House Majority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, told The Washington Post on Friday that he learned in late spring of inappropriate e-mails Foley sent to the Louisiana boy, and that he promptly told Hastert, who appeared to know already of the concerns. Hours later, Boehner contacted The Post to say he could not be sure he had spoken with Hastert.
Only after Reynolds' definitive statement did Hastert concede Saturday that he may have been notified of some of the questionable activities of Foley, 52, who had co-chaired the House caucus on missing and exploited children. Hastert said, however, that he knew nothing of the sexually explicit instant messages that became public Friday when ABC News and other news outlets reported them. The messages apparently were exchanged with youths other than the 16-year-old.
Hastert's aides learned in the fall of 2005 only of e-mail exchanges that House officials eventually deemed "overfriendly" with the Louisiana teenager, the speaker's office said Saturday in a lengthy statement.
Boehner and Reynolds said their offices learned of the Foley e-mails months ago from Rep. Rodney Alexander, R-La., who sponsored the page from his Northeast Louisiana district.
"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 speaker of the conversation Mr. Alexander had with me," Reynolds said Saturday.
GOP leaders have said they referred the matter promptly to Rep. John Shimkus, R-Ill., who heads a three-lawmaker panel that oversees the House page program.
Shimkus questioned Foley, but at that time, he had seen only suspiciously friendly e-mails, not the explicit instant messages revealed recently. In the e-mails, for example, Foley asked the page for a picture of himself. The boy reportedly told an associate that he considered the request to be "sick," but Foley convinced Shimkus that the exchanges were innocent, Shimkus and Republican leaders said.
Republicans appeared to have kept the matter tightly under wraps. Rep. Dale Kildee of Michigan, the only Democratic lawmaker on the page board, said Saturday: "I was never informed of the allegations about Mr. Foley's inappropriate communications with a House page, and I was never involved in any inquiry into this matter."
With his statement, Reynolds, who is locked in a difficult re-election campaign, signaled he was unwilling to take the fall alone amid partisan attacks that were becoming increasingly vituperative.
The Democratic National Committee issued a statement Saturday asking, "Why Did Tom Reynolds Cover Up Congressman's Sex Crimes?" It continued: "While the shocking (Internet) exchanges produced an immediate uproar that cost Congressman Foley his job, at least one member of the House Republican leadership had known about the situation for months and did nothing about it: ... Reynolds."
Republican insiders said Reynolds spoke out because he was angry that Hastert appeared willing to let him take the blame for the party leadership's silence about concerns raised last year regarding Foley's interactions with the teenager.
"This is what happens when one member tries to throw another member under a bus," said a House GOP leadership aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of losing his job.
Foley's actions have jeopardized a House seat that Republicans had considered safe this fall. Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., headlined a fundraiser Saturday for the district's Democratic nominee, Tim Mahoney, whose race has rocketed to national prominence with Foley's resignation.
The chronology released by Hastert's office begins in late 2005, after Alexander had alerted colleagues of Foley's e-mail exchanges with the former page who had returned to Louisiana. Hastert aide Tim Kennedy "immediately discussed the matter with his supervisor, Mike Stokke, Speaker Hastert's Deputy Chief of Staff," the statement says. Also brought into the talks were Hastert's staff attorney, Ted Van Der Meid, and the House clerk.
The clerk and Shimkus "immediately met with Foley to discuss the matter," the chronology says, and they told Foley "to immediately cease any communication with the young man. ... Mindful of the sensitivity to the parents' wishes to protect their child's privacy and believing that they had promptly reported what they knew to the proper authorities," it says, "Kennedy, Van Der Meid and Stokke did not discuss the matter with others in the Speaker's Office."
Republicans fear the scandal, coming after indictments of three GOP congressmen this year, might further tarnish the party's image, and some House members on Saturday joined in the chorus of dismay and scorn.
"As the author of laws designed to protect children on the Internet, I was appalled at the recent revelations that a member of Congress engaged in reprehensible behavior toward young people connected to the Congressional Page program," said Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind. "Congress should thoroughly investigate this matter and in cooperation with law-enforcement authorities, support all proper legal action."
Rich Galen, a Republican political strategist, worried that voters will lump Foley's name with Reps. Robert Ney, R-Ohio, Tom DeLay, R-Texas, and Randy "Duke" Cunningham, R-Calif., all of whom were forced to resign or were indicted amid various scandals this year.
"This sense of entitlement that members of Congress can do anything to anyone or for anyone has got to end," Galen said.
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