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Foley says he was molested as a teen; Hastert defends his handling of case
The Washington Post
WASHINGTON — Disgraced lawmaker Mark Foley's behavior was affected by alcoholism and childhood molestation, but he "never attempted to have sexual contact with a minor," his lawyer said Tuesday in the first extensive defense of the Florida Republican's actions, which have rocked Congress and the GOP.
The comments came as embattled House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., turned to conservative talk-radio hosts to defend his handling of the Foley matter, and rank-and-file House Republicans took a wait-and-see approach on their leader's fate. President Bush praised Hastert, but the House's second-ranking Republican challenged the speaker's account of how the Foley scandal unfolded.
Attorney David Roth told reporters in Florida that Foley was intoxicated when he sent lewd electronic messages to former House pages but was always sober when conducting official business during his 12 years in Congress. Roth said he could not explain the latest report from ABC News of an exchange in which Foley appeared to be having Internet sex with a youth while participating in a House roll-call vote.
Roth also said Foley is gay and was abused by clergy between the ages of 13 and 15. Foley, who is single and Roman Catholic, will fully cooperate with law-enforcement officers and will preserve all records, e-mails and other items they might want to review, Roth said. "Nothing will be altered," he said.
Foley, 52, abruptly resigned his seat Friday and checked into an alcohol-treatment facility in Florida.
While Roth was making his claims, federal agents were interviewing former House pages and asking whether Foley crossed state lines to have sex with minors, law-enforcement officials said. The widening investigation comes amid reports of lewd electronic messages in which Foley appeared to refer to past or future meetings with former pages, in Washington and other cities.
The House ethics committee scheduled its first meeting on Foley's actions for Thursday.
In interviews with the Los Angeles Times, several current and former congressional employees and others said they recalled Foley approaching young male pages, aides and interns at parties and other venues long before the current scandal.
"Almost the first day I got there, I was warned," said Mark Beck-Heyman, a San Diego native who served as a page in the House of Representatives in the summer of 1995. "It was no secret that Foley had a special interest in male pages," said Beck-Heyman, adding that Foley on several occasions asked him out for ice cream.
Another former congressional staff member said he, too, had been the object of Foley's advances. "It was so well-known around the House. Pages passed it along from class to class," said the former aide.
The investigation is being run by the FBI's Washington Field Office, with close supervision from the Cyber Division and other senior officials at FBI headquarters, said an official speaking on background.
Meanwhile, the debate over the GOP's handling of the Foley affair raged on. The Washington Times' conservative editorial page called on Hastert to resign as speaker. It joined other critics in saying Hastert and a few lieutenants tried to smother a 2005 complaint about Foley instead of launching inquiries that might have uncovered raunchier exchanges in 2003 with teenagers who had spent a semester on Capitol Hill.
Hastert turned to a half-dozen friendly talk-radio hosts to repeat his argument that the early warnings did not justify punishing Foley or launching an internal investigation of Foley's conduct. They involved e-mails in 2005 from Foley asking a Louisiana boy for his birthday wishes and a photograph, which alarmed the youth and his parents. Moreover, Hastert told Rush Limbaugh, "We did not know what the text of that message was because the parents held it and they didn't want it revealed."
Meanwhile, few Republican House members — who control Hastert's fate — made comments for or against the speaker. Majority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, told a Cincinnati radio station that he told Hastert this spring of the early concerns about Foley, one of two such reported conversations that Hastert says he does not recall. "My position is it's in his corner, it's his responsibility," Boehner said.
Later, however, Boehner issued a letter saying Hastert should not resign. Reps. Henry Hyde, R-Ill., and John Shadegg, R-Ariz., also wrote letters supporting Hastert, but they were not co-signed by colleagues, as such letters often are.
Democratic Party officials in New York accused GOP Rep. Tom Reynolds' chief of staff, Kirk Fordham, of trying to squelch Friday's ABC News story revealing the existence of the sexually explicit instant messages allegedly written by Foley to former congressional pages. Reynolds, from New York, is chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee.
Fordham said he asked an ABC reporter not to publish the explicit material on the network's Web site in order to spare Foley's sister and parents. Fordham, who served as Foley's chief of staff for 10 years before going to work for Reynolds, said he did not try to kill the story but tried only to prevent the disclosure of lurid details.
He described as "absurd" suggestions by Democrats that he had tried to protect Reynolds and the GOP leadership from embarrassment. "This was done as a friend of [Foley's] parents and family and nothing more," he said.
Bush, in his first comments about the scandal, condemned Foley's behavior and praised Hastert but refused to take questions about whether he agreed with conservatives who had called on the speaker to resign his post.
The president, endorsing the FBI and congressional investigations, called Hastert "a father, teacher, coach who cares about the children of this country" who wants "all the facts to come out" while protecting the young people in the congressional-page program.
A source close to Hastert said he thought the speaker, and the party at large, were pulling past the worst of the damage.
ABC News, which first reported on the graphic instant messages, Tuesday posted a new electronic exchange in which Foley allegedly had simulated sex with a former page during a 15-minute House vote in 2003.
Debates raged on the Web and elsewhere over the degree to which closeted and open gays in Washington knew of Foley's interest in teen boys, and whether such knowledge extended to wider circles.
One congressional source, meanwhile, said the FBI investigation could put legislators in an awkward position if tips prompt agents to seek computer records or other items from lawmakers' offices. Five months ago, many House members protested an FBI raid on the office of Rep. William J. Jefferson, D-La., as part of a public corruption probe.
In his late-afternoon news conference, Roth said Foley "does not blame the trauma he sustained as a young adolescent for his totally inappropriate e-mails and IMs," or instant messages. "He continues to offer no excuse whatsoever for his conduct." He said Foley "kept his shame to himself for almost 40 years. Specifically, Mark has asked that you be told that between the ages of 13 and 15 he was molested by a clergyman." Roth declined to name the clergyman's religion.
A coalition of conservative pro-family groups issued a statement expressing concern that House leaders had not moved aggressively when first informed about the e-mail between Foley and the Louisiana youth.
The groups' leaders said they were concerned that the "integrity of the conservative majority has given way to political correctness, trading the virtues of decency and respect for that of tolerance and diversity." However, the statement stopped short of joining in the calls for Hastert to step aside and did not mention anyone from either party by name.
Gannett News Service reported the Democratic allegations against Kirk Fordham.
Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company