Rep. Thomas Reynolds, head of the House Republican election effort, said Saturday he told Speaker Dennis Hastert months ago about concerns that a fellow GOP lawmaker had sent inappropriate messages to a teenage boy. Hastert’s office said aides referred the matter to the proper authorities last fall but they were only told the messages were “over-friendly.”
Reynolds, R-N.Y., was told about e-mails sent by Rep. Mark Foley and is now defending himself from Democratic accusations that he did too little. Foley, R-Fla., resigned Friday after ABC News questioned him about the e-mails to a former congressional page and about sexually suggestive instant messages to other pages.
“The improper communications between Congressman Mark Foley and former House Congressional pages is unacceptable and abhorrent. It is an obscene breach of trust,” Hastert, R-Ill., Majority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Majority Whip Roy Blunt, R-Mo., said in a written statement Saturday evening. “His immediate resignation must now be followed by the full weight of the criminal justice system.”
Confidential hotline set up
The House leaders said it is their duty to ensure House pages are safe. They said they are creating a toll-free hot line for pages and their families to call to confidentially report any incidents, and will consider adopting new rules on communications between lawmakers and pages.
The boy who received the e-mails was 16 in the summer of 2005 when he worked in Congress as a page. After the boy returned to his Louisiana home, the congressman e-mailed him. The teenager thought the messages were inappropriate, particularly one in which Foley asked the teen to send a picture of himself.
The teen’s family contacted their congressman, Rep. Rodney Alexander, R-La., who then discussed the problem with Reynolds sometime this spring.
“Rodney Alexander brought to my attention the existence of e-mails between Mark Foley and a former page of Mr. Alexander’s,” Reynolds, chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, said in a written statement Saturday.
“Despite the fact that I had not seen the e-mails in question, and Mr. Alexander told me that the parents didn’t want the matter pursued, I told the speaker of the conversation Mr. Alexander had with me,” Reynolds said.
Speaker doesn't remember discussion
Hastert said he does not remember talking to Reynolds about the Foley e-mails, but did not dispute Reynolds’ account.
“While the speaker does not explicitly recall this conversation, he has no reason to dispute Congressman Reynolds’ recollection that he reported to him on the problem and its resolution,” Hastert’s aides said in a preliminary report on the matter issued Saturday.
The report includes a lengthy timeline detailing when they first learned of the worrisome e-mail in the fall of 2005, after a staffer for Alexander told Hastert’s office the family wanted Foley to stop contacting their son. Alexander’s staffer did not share the contents of the e-mail, saying it was not sexual but “over-friendly,” the report says.
ABC News reported Friday that Foley also engaged in a series of sexually explicit instant messages with current and former teenage male pages. In one message, ABC said, Foley wrote to one page: "Do I make you a little horny?"
In another message, Foley wrote, "You in your boxers, too? ... Well, strip down and get naked."
Hastert’s aides referred the matter to the Clerk of the House, and “mindful of the sensitivity of the parent’s wishes to protect their child’s privacy and believing that they had promptly reported what they knew to the proper authorities,” they did not discuss it with others in Hastert’s office — including, apparently, their boss.
After the issue was referred to the clerk, it was passed along to the congressman who oversees the page program, Rep. John Shimkus, R-Ill.
Did Foley mislead colleagues?
Shimkus has said he learned about the e-mail exchange in late 2005 and took immediate action to investigate.
He said Foley told him it was an innocent exchange. Shimkus said he warned Foley not to have any more contact with the teenager and to respect other pages.
Democrats charged Reynolds did far too little and said more digging should be done.
“Congressman Reynolds’ inaction in the face of such a serious situation is very troubling, and raises important questions about whether there was an attempt to cover up criminal activity involving a minor to keep it from coming to light before Election Day,” said Democratic National Committee spokeswoman Karen Finney.
New York Democrats hoping to unseat Reynolds blasted the congressman, saying they call into question the Republican’s values.
“Mr. Reynolds knew about these allegedly inappropriate e-mails from a fellow congressman to a minor for months and didn’t lift a finger,” said Blake Zeff, a spokesman for the state Democrats.
A sure-thing no more
Foley’s abrupt departure sent Republicans scrambling for a replacement candidate less than six weeks before midterm elections in which Democrats are making a strong bid to gain control of the House.
Foley, 52, had been a shoo-in for a new term until the e-mail correspondence surfaced in recent days.
His resignation further complicates the political landscape for Republicans, who are fighting to retain control of Congress. Democrats need to win a net of 15 Republican seats to regain the power they lost in 1994.
Florida Republicans planned to meet as soon as Monday to name a replacement in Foley's district, which President Bush won with 55 percent in 2004 and is now in play for November. Though Florida ballots have already been printed with Foley's name and cannot be changed, any votes for Foley will count toward the party's choice.
Foley's Hill leadership
Foley, as chairman of the Missing and Exploited Children's Caucus, had introduced legislation in July to protect children from exploitation by adults over the Internet. He also sponsored other legislation designed to protect minors from abuse and neglect.
"We track library books better than we do sexual predators," Foley has said.
Foley was a member of the Republican leadership, serving as a deputy whip. He also was a member of the House Ways and Means Committee.
Foley, who represents an area around Palm Beach County, e-mailed the page in August 2005. Foley asked him how he was doing after Hurricane Katrina and what he wanted for his birthday. The congressman also asked the boy to send a photo of himself, according to excerpts of the e-mails that were originally released by ABC News.
Foley's aides initially blamed Democratic rival Tim Mahoney and Democrats with attempting to smear the congressman before the election.
Investigation of Foley requested
The e-mails were posted Friday on the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington Web site after ABC News reported their existence. The group asked the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct to investigate the exchange Foley had with the boy.
Naomi Seligman, a spokewoman for CREW, said the group also sent a letter to the FBI after the group received the e-mails. CREW did not post their copies of the e-mail until ABC News reported them, instead waiting for the investigation.
"The House of Representatives has an obligation to protect the teenagers who come to Congress to learn about the legislative process," the group wrote, adding that the committee, "must investigate any allegation that a page has been subjected to sexual advances by members of the House."
In 2003, Foley faced questions about his sexual orientation as he prepared to run for Sen. Bob Graham's seat. At a news conference in May of that year, he said he would not comment on rumors he was gay. He later decided not to seek the Senate seat to care for his parents.
According to the CREW posting, the boy e-mailed a colleague in Alexander's office about Foley's e-mails, saying, "This freaked me out." On the request for a photo, the boy repeated the word "sick" 13 times.
He said Foley asked for his e-mail when the boy gave him a thank you card. The boy also said Foley wrote that he e-mailed another page.
"he's such a nice guy," Foley wrote about the other boy. "acts much older than his age...and hes in really great shape...i am just finished riding my bike on a 25 mile journey now heading to the gym...whats school like for you this year?"
In other e-mails, Foley wrote, "I am back in Florida now...its nice here...been raining today...it sounds like you will have some fun over the next few weeks...how old are you now?" and "how are you weathering the hurricane...are you safe...send me an email pic of you as well."
What the boy wrote to Foley, who is single, wasn't available. The e-mails were sent from Foley's personal account, which Foley spokesman Jason Kello says he uses to communicate with many people, including the governor.
Florida Republican Party lawyers were reviewing the process to pick a replacement for Foley. Party Chairwoman Carole Jean Jordan said she hopes a replacement will be chosen by Monday. Among the possibilities was state Rep. Joe Negron, who was a candidate for attorney general before dropping out of the race to avoid a primary with former Rep. Bill McCollum.
"It would be very time sensitive so the nominee would have the opportunity to get around the district and campaign in a very short amount of time," Jordan said.
David Johnson, a former state Republican chairman who worked as a strategist for Foley, said it will be difficult for the party's pick to win with Foley's name on the ballot.
Mahoney, a Republican who became a Democrat last year, is chairman and chief operating officer of a $1 billion-a-year financial services company. In his House bid, he has focused on Washington corruption and oversized deficits.
In a statement, Mahoney said, "The challenges facing congressman Foley make this is a difficult time for the people of the 16th district. The families of all of those involved are in our thoughts and prayers."
In 1983, the House censured two lawmakers -- Daniel Crane of Illinois and Gerry Studds of Massachusetts -- for having improper relationships with pages.
The page program is for high school students who study at a congressional school while also carrying out tasks for lawmakers.