WASHINGTON — The House ethics committee reported Friday that Republican lawmakers and aides failed to protect young male pages from former Rep. Mark Foley's improper advances, concluding an investigation into a scandal that convulsed Congress and contributed to the GOP defeat in last month's elections.
The panel said it found no evidence that any current lawmakers or aides violated any rules. But it said it discovered a pattern of conduct among many "to remain willfully ignorant of the potential consequences" of Foley's conduct.
Foley, R-Fla., hurriedly resigned his seat Sept. 29 after the existence of sexually explicit computer messages sent to teenage pages came to light.
Foley quickly entered an alcoholic treatment program.
But the scandal damaged Republicans politically, and raised questions about whether Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., or his aides had done enough to investigate reports of improper advances by Foley.
Florida authorities have opened a criminal investigation into whether Foley broke any laws related to his communications with the teens. Federal authorities are also investigating.
The report found that Hastert was likely told about Foley's e-mails by two Republican leaders last spring.
Hastert has said he doesn't recall the conversations. But both Majority Leader John Boehner of Ohio and Rep. Tom Reynolds of New York have said they informed the speaker last spring.
"The speaker's reported statement in response to Majority Leader Boehner that the matter 'has been taken care of' is some evidence that the speaker was aware of some concern regarding Rep. Foley's conduct" even prior to the spring conversation, the report said.
Lengthy, cooperative investigation
The report was the result of numerous interviews conducted over nine weeks. Most of the witnesses answered question without being subpoenaed.
Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., and Howard Berman, D-Calif., the committee's leaders, said the report reflected the bipartisan conclusions of a four-member investigative panel.
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"This is not the jury-rigged result of a series of compromises but rather the right report on this subject," Berman said at a news conference in the Capitol.
Some of Foley's computer messages — not the most sexually explicit ones — came to light after the recipient's parents contacted Rep. Rodney Alexander, the Louisiana Republican who was the young man's sponsor in the page program.
Apart from Alexander and his aides, the ethics committee said, "No one in the House who was involved in addressing Rep. Foley's conduct ... actually saw the e-mails. Several people were told about the e-mails and were asked to take action regarding them, including confronting Rep. Foley and telling him to stop," the report said.
Changes await new Congress
"The Investigative Subcommittee finds a significant number of instances where members (of Congress), officers or employees fails to exercise appropriate diligence and oversight, or should have exercised greater diligence and oversight, regarding issues arising from the interaction between former Rep. Mark Foley and current or former House pages," the report said.
On balance, investigators said evidence supports the conclusion that Hastert's top aide had been told about Foley's conduct in late 2002 or early 2003. The aide, Scott Palmer, flatly denied to reporters that he was told that long ago. In testimony to the committee, he said, "I believe it didn't happen. I don't have any recollection of it."
The report also said that another of Hastert's aides, Ted Van Der Meid, "should have done more to learn about the e-mails and how they had been handled," in view of earlier warnings he had received about Foley's conduct.
Apart from Hastings and Berman, the two other lawmakers who participated in the investigation were Reps. Judy Biggert, R-Ill., and Stephanie Tubbs Jones, D-Ohio.
The voluminous report was released on the final full day of the Congress, meaning that any changes in the rules or in the page program must wait until lawmakers return to the Capitol in January.
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