Reps. Dennis Hastert and John Shimkus
Kevin Lamarque  /  Reuters
Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., (L) and Rep. John Shimkus, R-Ill., board chairman for the House page program, speak to reporters about ex-Rep. Mark Foley, R-Fla. The FBI is assessing whether Foley broke any laws when he sent sexually explicit e-mails to a male teen-age congressional page.
updated 10/2/2006 8:10:09 PM ET 2006-10-03T00:10:09

House Speaker Dennis Hastert said Monday no Republican leaders saw lurid Internet exchanges from former Rep. Mark Foley to pages and he would have demanded his ouster if he'd known about them.

"As a parent and speaker of the House, I am disgusted," Hastert, R-Ill., told reporters after holding a meeting at the Capitol in the wake of the disclosure of the e-mails in 2003 to a page, which led to Foley's resignation last Friday. The page's home state was not immediately cited.

The speaker did not mention e-mail exchanges between Foley, a Florida Republican, and another page, from Louisiana, in 2005. Other House Republicans said they told Hastert about those exchanges months ago. Hastert has not disputed those accounts.

'Vile and repulsive' messages
"Congessman Foley duped a lot of people," Hastert said. "I've know him for all the years he has worked in this House and he deceived me, too."

Hastert described instant messages that Foley sent to a former page in 2003 as "vile and repulsive."

Hastert and his leadership team have been working through the weekend to contain the fallout from the Foley revelations. He spoke to reporters Monday after meeting with Rep. John Shimkus, R-Ill., who chairs a panel of lawmakers that oversees the House page program.

Federal investigation
Asked about the preliminary inquiry under way at the FBI into Foley's actions, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales told reporters Monday afternoon, "We're just beginning to look at it right now. I haven't received a report."

Officials were still trying to decide whether the Washington or Miami offices of the FBI would head the inquiry.

The congressional page program has traditionally been a starting point for young people interested in making a career of politics.

There currently are 72 House pages, 48 selected by Republicans and 24 by Democrats, according to a recent report by the Congressional Research Service. The Senate breakdown is 30 pages, 18 chosen by Republicans and 12 by Democrats.

E-mails vs. instant messages
Hastert, who did not take questions from reporters, called on any person who was aware of the 2003 instant messages to speak to law enforcement authorities. He said no Republican leader in Congress was aware of those exchanges until Friday, when ABC News reported it had questioned Foley about them.

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Leadership officials had been aware since last year of the 2005 e-mail exchange, which they described as "overly friendly" but did not include overtly sexual references. They said they did not follow up on them other than to instruct Foley to not communicate with the Louisiana page.

Hastert said the page program has inspired many generations of youths to go into public life and said their safety and protection has been a top priority.

Video: Scarborough on the Foley scandal

"It is a trust and as a parent and as the speaker of the House I am disgusted that Congressman Foley broke that trust," he said.

Foley enters rehab
Foley, 52, checked himself into an alcohol rehabilitation center over the weekend, his attorney said Monday. In a statement, Foley said: "I strongly believe that I'm an alcoholic and have accepted the need for immediate treatment for alcoholism and other behavioral problems."

Florida Republicans on Monday chose a member of the state legislature, Rep. Joe Negron of Stuart, to replace Foley as the party's candidate for the state's 16th congressional district, which covers an area north and west of Palm Beach.

Damage control
Hastert and his leadership team have been working through the weekend to contain the fallout from the Foley revelations. In a letter sent Sunday, Hastert asked Gonzales to "conduct an investigation of Mr. Foley's conduct with current and former House pages."

White House spokesman Tony Snow on Monday attempted to deflect the political repercussions of the Foley exchanges with pages, saying, "The House has to clean up the mess, to the extent there is a mess."

"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," Snow added.

Shimkus, appearing with Hastert, said new measures would be implemented to keep pages safe and said they include a toll-free hotline for pages, former pages and their families to confidentially report any incidents.

Shimkus called Foley's behavior "deplorable."

"The very thought of this behavior made me sick," he said. "Mark Foley should be ashamed."

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Video: GOP coming to terms with Foley e-mails

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