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Politics

Foley panel chides House

By BILL ADAIR and ADAM C. SMITH
Published December 9, 2006


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WASHINGTON - The House ethics committee found many to fault but no one to blame for the way Rep. Mark Foley's e-mail sex scandal involving teenage pages was permitted to quietly simmer on Capitol Hill for nearly a decade.

In a report released Friday, the committee cataloged a pattern of suspicious behavior by Foley, a South Florida Republican, that was known and discussed among some people in the House of Representatives shortly after Foley took office in 1995.

But the panel said the lawmakers and aides remained "willfully ignorant of the potential consequences" of Foley's activities and failed to take sufficient action to protect the young pages. The bipartisan committee said it was "disturbed" by the sluggish response by lawmakers and staffers - including several senior aides to House Speaker Dennis Hastert.

Still, the panel determined that no House rules were broken and it did not recommend any sanctions.

The long-awaited report, released as Congress was about to adjourn for the year, does not contain major revelations about the scandal that helped topple the Republicans from power in November. But it reveals some new details.

- In 2001, a former page told his sponsor, Rep. Jim Kolbe, R-Ariz., that the page's friendly e-mail relationship with Foley had taken an uncomfortable, sexual turn. Kolbe routed the complaint to staffers and Foley later e-mailed the teen an apology.

- After the scandal broke in late September, over Foley e-mails to a different page, Kolbe advised his former page not to tell people about his experience with Foley: "It is best that you don't even bring this up with anybody," Kolbe said.

- House Clerk Jeff Trandahl was so concerned about Foley's behavior that when the pages voted to select a House member to speak at their graduation, Trandahl rigged the election to make sure Foley was not chosen. He later told a Republican lawmaker Foley was "a ticking time bomb."

The committee report is likely to be Congress' final word on the Foley scandal. Foley, 52, was overly attentive to young male pages in the Capitol and had a habit of developing e-mail relationships with some of the teens that later became overtly sexual.

The FBI and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement have been investigating whether the Fort Pierce representative broke any laws by having sexual conversations with minors. Foley has been in a drug treatment center in Tucson, Ariz., and did not testify.

Within hours of the report's release Friday, liberal groups criticized the ethics committee for being too soft on the lawmakers and staffers.

Joan Claybrook, president of Public Citizen, said the report "is an insult to the American public and makes it clear that the ethics process is almost irretrievably broken."

A major theme in the report is the constant worry of lawmakers and their staffers about political fallout.

Rep. Rodney Alexander, R-La., the sponsor of a former page who received "over-friendly" e-mails from Foley that had been leaked to some newspapers, alerted other House leaders after a reporter called. But the focus seemed to be on avoiding bad publicity.

After the Times contacted Alexander in November 2005, the report says Alexander's chief of staff called the page's father to tell him that he did not have to talk to reporters who "were trying to make something" of the e-mails and that "the Democrats would like to use something like this" against a Republican.

The report says Illinois Rep. John Shimkus, the Republican head of the page board, was brought into the matter. But he never alerted Democrats on the board, telling one Democratic colleague, "I was afraid it would be blown out of proportion."

But as those Louisiana e-mails spread to more reporters, more House members were brought into the loop about Foley. Majority Leader John Boehner and New York Rep. Tom Reynolds, head of the Republican congressional campaign effort, said they told Speaker Dennis Hastert about the brewing problem.

Hastert said he did not recall that, but the panel rejected that claim, concluding it was likely he had been told.

The report provides new details about the activities of Kolbe, an openly gay Republican who is retiring from Congress.

A former page who had been sponsored by Kolbe said he e-mailed the Arizona congressman in October 2001 to complain about a sexually explicit instant message he had received from Foley.

A Kolbe aide said he contacted Foley's chief of staff, Kirk Fordham, who promised "to take care of the problem." A few weeks later, the former page received an e-mail from Foley apologizing for making him feel uncomfortable.

The former page said that after Foley resigned, he reminded Kolbe about the message. He quoted the congressman as saying, "It is best that you don't even bring this up with anybody. There is no good that can come from it if you actually talk about this. The man has resigned anyway."

But Kolbe had a different recollection of that conversation. He told the committee the former page had decided not to report the message and that Kolbe told him, "That's your decision."

Highlights

- "A pattern of conduct was exhibited among many individuals to remain willfully ignorant."

--The committee did not find evidence that House members violated any rules or deserved to be punished, but said Foley probably would have faced disciplinary action if he hadn't resigned.

-- In 2001, Rep. Jim Kolbe, R-Ariz., received a complaint from a former page, who said he got an e-mail from Foley that made him uncomfortable because of its sexual content. Kolbe arranged to have Foley apologize.

--Several witnesses testified that years ago Foley arrived at the page dormitory intoxicated, but the committee was unable to confirm that the incident occurred.

[Last modified December 9, 2006, 01:05:26]


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