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FBI launches Foley investigation

The House speaker also calls for inquiries by the Department of Justice and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

By ANITA KUMAR
Published October 1, 2006


WASHINGTON — The FBI said Sunday that it had launched an investigation into former Rep. Mark Foley’s sexually explicit Internet communications with teenage boys.

The announcement came after House Speaker Dennis Hastert called for criminal inquiries by both the Department of Justice and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

In letters sent Sunday to U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Hastert asked for an investigation into “Mr. Foley’s conduct with current and former House pages to determine to what extent any of his actions violated … law.”

Foley, 52, a Republican from the West Palm Beach area, abruptly resigned Friday after the public disclosure of e-mails and instant messages between him and former congressional pages that Hastert now says went back at least three years.

The scandal has left House Republican leaders fending off charges that they knew about Foley’s behavior for months but failed to disclose it.

It comes just weeks before the critical midterm election in which Democrats have their best chance in a dozen years to take control of the House.

Democratic leaders praised the federal inquiry but continued to call for a separate investigation by the House Ethics Committee into what they are calling a Republican cover-up.

“Republican leaders have admitted to knowing about Mr. Foley’s outrageous behavior for six months to a year, and they chose to cover it up rather than to protect these children,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said.

Several House leaders including Hastert, Majority Leader John Boehner and Rep. Tom Reynolds, head of the National Republican Congressional Committee, have said in recent days that they knew for months about some of Foley’s correspondence. They said they knew about one “over-friendly” e-mail exchange Foley had with a 16-year-old page from Louisiana but not the sexually explicit instant messages later publicized by ABC News.

To bolster his argument, Hastert refers to an editor’s note published on the St. Petersburg Times Web site Saturday that explains that the newspaper received copies of some of the e-mails to the Louisiana page in November 2005, but characterized them as “friendly chit-chat” and chose not to print a story about them after speaking to Foley.

But on Sunday night, St. Peterburg Times editors rebutted his statements.

“The speaker is inaccurate. Our decision not to publish last fall was not based on an explanation from Rep. Foley,’’ managing editor Stephen Buckley said.

“We didn’t publish because the Louisiana teenager’s parents did not want to pursue the issue, and because, despite our best efforts, we weren’t able to track down any pages who had received inappropriate e-mails from the congressman. We didn’t know about any sexually explicit exchanges between Rep. Foley and any former pages until the instant messages became public on Friday.”

Hastert also asked federal and state authorities to look into “who had specific knowledge of the content of any sexually explicit communications between Mr. Foley and any former or current House pages and what actions such individuals took, if any, to provide them to law enforcement.

“I request that the scope of your investigation include any and all individuals who may have been aware of this matter — be they members of Congress, employees of the House of Representatives, or anyone outside the Congress,” he wrote in his letter.

FBI spokesman Richard Kolko confirmed Sunday night that the FBI is “conducting an assessment to see if there’s been a violation of federal law.”

Agents from the cyber division are looking into the text of the messages, how many e-mails were sent and which computers were used.

White House counselor Dan Bartlett called the allegations against Foley shocking, but said President Bush hadn’t learned of Foley’s inappropriate e-mails to a 16-year-old boy and instant messages to other boys before the news broke last week.

“We need to make sure that the page system is one in which children come up here and can work and make sure that they are protected,” Bartlett said on a Sunday morning talk show.

Gov. Bush’s communications director Alia Faraj said that FDLE had already been cooperating with FBI and federal officials before late Sunday and had been told to expect Hastert’s letter.

“The FBI is lead and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement is coordinating,” Faraj said. “If it becomes necessary for the state to have a separate investigation, we will do so at the appropriate time.”

Times staff writer Joni James contributed to this report, which also includes from the Associated Press. Anita Kumar can be reached at akumar@sptimes.com or (202) 463-0576.