FBI examining Foley's e-mail to teens
WASHINGTON - With GOP leaders scrambling to contain the political fallout from the latest Washington sex scandal, the FBI is examining Republican Rep. Mark Foley (news, bio, voting record)'s e-mail exchanges with teenage boys to see if laws were broken.
The FBI "is conducting an assessment to see if there's been a violation of federal law," FBI spokesman Richard Kolko said, declining to elaborate.
Foley, a congressman from Florida, abruptly quit Congress on Friday after reports surfaced that he'd sent sexually charged electronic messages to boys working as congressional pages.
The disclosure sent House Republicans into damage control mode amid charges by Democrats that some House leaders may have known for months about Foley's inappropriate overtures toward the young pages.
House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., in a letter sent Sunday to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, asked the Justice Department to "conduct an investigation of Mr. Foley's conduct with current and former House pages."
White House counsel Dan Bartlett called the allegations involving Foley shocking, while Democrats demanded that investigators determine whether Republican leaders tried to cover up Foley's actions for political reasons.
"The attorney general should open a full-scale investigation immediately," Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada said in a statement, including whether GOP leaders "knew there was a problem and ignored it to preserve a congressional seat this election year."
Foley's district is heavily Republican, but now may be won by a Democrat. Republicans are struggling to maintain their House majority in the upcoming election.
FBI cyber sleuths are looking into the text of some of the Foley messages, checking to see how many e-mails and instant electronic messages were sent and how many computers were used, according to a law enforcement official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the ongoing investigation.
The FBI also was trying to determine if any of the teenagers who received messages are willing to cooperate with the investigation, the official said.
Ironically, Foley, who is 52 and single, could be found to have violated a law that he helped to write as co-chairman of the Congressional Missing and Exploited Children's Caucus.
"Republican leaders have admitted to knowing about Mr.Foley's outrageous behavior for six months to a year, and they chose to cover it up rather than to protect these children," said House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California.
Rep. Thomas Reynolds (news, bio, voting record) of New York, head of the House Republican election effort, said he told Hastert months ago about the allegations involving a 16-year-old boy from Louisiana.
Hastert acknowledged that his staff had been made aware of concerns about what they termed "over-friendly" e-mails Foley had sent to the teenager — including one requesting his picture — in the fall of 2005, and that they referred the matter to the House clerk.
But Hastert said those e-mails were not viewed as "sexual in nature" and that he was not aware of "a different set of communications which were sexually explicit ... which Mr. Foley reportedly sent another former page or pages."
Hastert asked the Justice Department to investigate "anyone 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."
A Pelosi spokeswoman, Jennifer Crider, late Sunday said that Hastert "seems more concerned by who revealed the Republican leadership coverup of Mr. Foley's Internet stalking of an underage child than he was about ensuring the children entrusted to the House were protected."
"We need to make sure that the page system is one in which children come up here and can work and make sure that they are protected," said Bartlett, the White House counsel, as he made the rounds of the Sunday morning talk shows.
Congressional pages, a staple of Washington politics since the 1820s, are high school students who serve as gofers in the House and Senate.
Republican leaders say it's their duty to ensure House pages' safety, and they're setting up a toll-free hot line for pages and their families to call to confidentially report any incidents. They also will consider adopting new rules on communications between lawmakers and pages.
Rep. Jane Harman (news, bio, voting record) of California, top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said Democrats should have been told about concerns over Foley's conduct. "I gather that basically nothing was done except that Foley was warned," she said on Fox News Sunday.
"It really makes me nervous that they might have tried to cover this up," said Rep. John Murtha (news, bio, voting record), D-Pa., on ABC's "This Week," adding that already "the reputation of Congress under the Republican leadership is lower than used car salesmen."
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