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House faces Foley fallout

Congress is in recess, but the Capitol bristles with questions on who knew about the disgraced former congressman.

By ANITA KUMAR
Published October 2, 2006


WASHINGTON — U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert insisted Monday he only recently learned of sexually explicit contact between former Rep. Mark Foley and teenage boys but acknowledged House leaders didn’t launch a full investigation when they saw a “red flag” e-mail last year.

With Congress in recess, Hastert remained at the Capitol to face intensifying questions about the swift-moving sex scandal as revelations continued to build:

- Foley, who has remained out of sight since resigning abruptly Friday, issued a statement saying he had entered an alcohol treatment program.n A Washington ethics group revealed it told the FBI about the former congressman’s suspicious e-mails more than two months ago.

- Snippets of new e-mail exchanges suggest Foley may have met with a young man he had corresponded with over the computer, according to ABC News.In going to a rehabilitation facility, Foley offered his first comments to date in a statement through his lawyer.

The location of the facility is undisclosed, but the statement by fax came from a Clearwater phone number. He is expected to remain there at least 30 days.“Events that led to my resignation have crystalized recognition of my long-standing and significant alcoholism and emotional difficulties,” he wrote.

“I strongly believe that I am an alcoholic and have accepted the need for immediate treatment for alcoholism and other behavioral problems.”

At the Capitol, Hastert said leaders knew only that Foley had e-mailed a 16-year-old former congressional page from Louisiana last fall. When the boy’s parents complained that Foley asked for a photograph, Hastert said, Foley was confronted and told to stop communicating with the boy.

Hastert issued his strongest statement yet, saying he was “outraged and disgusted” by Foley’s actions.

“Congressman Foley duped a lot of people,” Hastert said. “I have known him for all the years he has served in this House, and he deceived me, too.’’

In talking with a small group of reporters after his news conference, Hastert said of the Louisiana e-mail, “I think that is apparent that would raise a red flag.”

Yet, beyond talking to Foley, nothing was done.

The Page Board, a panel designed specifically to care for pages, was not convened to investigate. House leaders did not contact other current or former pages to find out if Foley’s behavior went beyond a single incident. No one reported the correspondence to federal or state authorities.

“It’s such unusual, bizarre behavior you would think to ask questions,’’ said former federal prosecutor John Fitzgibbons, now a lawyer in private practice in Tampa. “It cries out for an investigation. It is so obvious.”

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

On Monday, ABC News released new instant messages that show for the first time that Foley, using the screen name Maf54, tried to meet with teenage boys, and it appeared in some cases that he might have.

In one message, he wrote: I would drive a few miles for a hot stud like you.

In another message, Foley appears to describe having been together with the teen in San Diego.

Maf54: I miss you lots since san diego.

Teen: ya I cant wait til dc

Maf54: :)

Teen: did you pick a night for dinner

Maf54: not yet … but likely Friday

Teen: ok … ill plan for Friday then

Maf54: that will be fun

Foley’s attorney David Roth said Monday that Foley is “absolutely positively not a pedophile, has never ever had an inappropriate sexual contact with a minor in his life.”

Matthew Loraditch, a page in the 2001-02 class, told ABC News and the Washington Post that he and other pages were warned five years ago about Foley by a Republican staff member.

Loraditch, the president of the Page Alumni Association, said Foley sent “creepy” messages to three 2002 classmates after the boys finished the House program.

“They became explicit and similar to what we are seeing on the Web sites right now,” said Loraditch, 21, a senior at Towson University in Maryland. Those who received them “didn’t do anything beside telling other pages about it.”

Foley was a particularly friendly House member to young pages, remembering their names and talking to them during lulls in late-night sessions.

He gave speeches during traditional June ceremonies honoring them in 2001, 2002, and 2004, according to the Congressional Record.

He told House pages in his speeches that he took “a special interest in each and every one.” In 2002, he warned “all of you not to cry in front of me, please, so I can get through this very important day with you without shedding tears as well.”

In one speech, he referred to taking one of the young men, who was the highest bidder in “lunch with Mark Foley,” to Morton’s Steakhouse in his BMW.

This weekend, both the FBI and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement announced they were launching investigations into the correspondence. But it’s unclear if the FBI was already investigating.

A watchdog group, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, gave the FBI e-mails from Foley to the Louisiana page on July 21, and then followed up with a call to an agent, said Melanie Sloan, the group’s executive director. She said she never heard back.

FBI spokesman Steve Kodak refused to comment about when the FBI opened its investigation.

“We’re just beginning to look at it right now,’’ U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said Monday afternoon.  

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

Federal law enforcement officials say attempts by Foley to meet in person could constitute the necessary evidence for a federal charge of “soliciting for sex” with a minor on the Internet.

Foley, co-chairman for a National Center for Missing & Exploited Children caucus, a group of House members that deals with child protection issues, could be found to have violated a law he helped write.

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

“The House has to clean up the mess, to the extent there is a mess,’’ White House spokesman Tony Snow said.

“This does not affect every Republican in the United States of America, just as bad behavior on Democrats’ part is not a reflection on the entire party.”

Congressional pages, a staple of Washington politics since the 1820s, are high school students who serve as messengers in the House and Senate. Currently, there are 72 House pages and 30 Senate pages.

Times staff writers Wes Allison, Steve Bousquet, Graham Brink and Joni James contributed to this report, which used information from the Associated Press. Anita Kumar can be reached at akumar@sptimes.com or (202) 463-0576.