Hastert: Didn't Know About Foley's Sexually Explicit Messages

July 7, 2008 - 7:31 PM

(CNSNews.com) - Both Republicans and Democrats are demanding criminal investigations into Rep. Mark Foley's "improper and illicit communications" with former House pages.

House Speaker Dennis Hastert has called Foley's alleged behavior "unacceptable, abhorrent" and "an obscene breach of trust."

Over the weekend, Hastert sent separate but similar letters to Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and U.S. Attorney Alberto Gonzalez, requesting both a state and federal investigation into Foley's possibly criminal conduct.

But in his letters to Bush and Gonzalez, Hastert made it clear that "there are two different and distinct communications at issue" involving Foley.

Hastert said while House leaders were aware of "overly friendly" messages Foley sent to one teenage boy, they were not aware of sexually explicit message he sent to others.

According to Hastert, Foley sent an email to a former page of Rep. Rodney Alexander (formerly a Louisiana Democrat, now a Republican) in the fall of 2005. "This email was determined to be 'over friendly' by Representative Alexander's office but was not sexual in nature," Hastert said.

Hastert said based on press reports that surfaced Friday, Foley also sent a second set of communications -- sexually explicit instant messages -- to another former page or pages. "These communications, of which no one in the House Leadership was aware to my knowledge, reportedly were sent some time in 2003," Hastert said in his letters to Bush and Gonzalez.

Rep. Foley abruptly resigned from the House of Representatives on Friday, September 29, after reporters began asking questions about some of Foley's instant messages to teenage pages.

Hastert noted that the St. Petersburg Times had received a set of Foley's emails to Alexander's former page in November 2005 -- but the editors of the newspaper said they viewed the exchange as "friendly chit chat" and decided not to publish it after hearing an explanation from Representative Foley.

"Acting on this same communication, the Chairman of the House Page Board and the then Clerk of the House confronted Mr. Foley, demanded he cease all contact with the former page as his (the page's) parents had requested, and believed they had privately resolved the situation as the parents had requested," Hastert explained.

Hastert said Foley's second set of online communications -- unlike the first set - involved sexually explicit instant messages that reportedly were generated three years ago.

Hastert said the first that he or other House leaders heard of the sexually explicit instant messages was late last week, when ABC News first reported that they existed.

Who else knew and why now?

"These sexually explicit communications warrant a criminal referral," Hastert said in his letters to Bush and Gonzalez.

Hastert also said it is important to find out "who may have had the [second set of sexually explicit] communications and why they were not given to prosecutors before now."

Hastert asked Bush and Gonzalez to "undertake an investigation into who had specific knowledge of the content of any sexually explicit communications between Mr. Foley and any former or current House pages and what actions such individuals took, if any, to provide them to law enforcement.

"I request that the scope of your investigation include any and all individuals who may have been aware of this matter -- be they Members of Congress, employees of the House of Representatives, or anyone outside the Congress," Hastert said.

'Despicable'

Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) noted that under laws Rep. Foley himself helped to write, soliciting sex from a minor online is a federal crime.

"The American people expect and deserve a full accounting for this despicable episode," Reid said in a news release. "The alleged crimes here are far outside the scope of any Congressional committee, and the attorney general should open a full-scale investigation immediately.

"We have a responsibility to the long-term safety of every child who will work in Congress that must not be sacrificed to the short-term interest of any one political party," Reid said.

Reid also while the allegations against Congressman Foley are repugnant -- "equally as bad is the possibility that Republican leaders in the House of Representatives knew there was a problem and ignored it to preserve a Congressional seat this election year."

But as Hastert said in his letter to Gov. Bush and Attorney General Gonzalez, House Republican leaders were not aware of the extent of the problem, because the messages that came to their attention were not sexually explicit in nature.

Still, Democrats are questioning the way Republicans handled -- or did not handle -- Foley's improper communications with a House page.

The Democratic National Committee noted that Rep. Tom Reynolds of New York -- the chair of the National Republican Congressional Committee, a group that works to elect Republicans to Congress -- knew "months ago" that a teenage page had complained about Foley's "inappropriate communications."

"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 Communications Director Karen Finney in a news release.

"We need real answers to important questions about precisely who knew about these activities and when they knew it, whether other current or former pages were victimized by Congressman Foley, why the Republican House leadership was prepared to adjourn without at the very least referring this matter to the ethics committee, and what corrective action if any Congressman Reynolds and the rest of the Republican House leadership took," Finney said.

"Democracy 21, a government watchdog group, is calling on the House ethics committee to "promptly appoint an outside counsel to conduct an independent investigation of House Republican leaders and how they dealt with the House page scandal that led Rep. Mark Foley (R-Fla.) to resign last week."

The group noted that various Republican leaders -- House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), House Majority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio), Rep. Tom Reynolds (R-N.Y.), chairman of the Republican Congressional Campaign Committee, and Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.), chairman of the House Page Board - reportedly "had been aware for months that Rep. Foley had engaged in improper communications with a House page."

"An independent investigation by an outside counsel must determine whether any improper efforts were made to conceal this matter, and why this matter apparently was not brought to the attention of all Members who serve on the House Page Board or to the attention of the Members of the House Ethics Committee," Democracy 21 President Fred Wertheimer said.

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