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FBI Knew in July About Foley E-Mails to Teen

Charles Babington and Jonathan Weisman / Washington Post | October 3 2006

The FBI acknowledged yesterday that it did not begin an investigation in late July after receiving copies of e-mails sent in 2005 by then-Rep. Mark Foley (R-Fla.) to a Louisiana teenager -- messages that troubled the boy's parents.

Key House Republicans learned of the e-mails in 2005 and chose to deal with Foley privately, warning him to cease contact with the 16-year-old former House page. Top aides to Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) did not inform him about the incident, Hastert said yesterday, and he defended their actions in a Capitol Hill news conference.

But the GOP's handling of the Foley matter has rocked the party since it was revealed last week that Foley had sent far more sexually explicit electronic messages to teenage former pages in 2003 and 2004.

Many Democrats and some Republicans sharply criticized the decision by key House GOP members to handle the matter of the Louisiana e-mails so quietly that only one of the three lawmakers who oversee the page program knew anything about it. The other two -- one Democrat, one Republican -- expressed anger yesterday that they had been kept in the dark.

Also yesterday, ABC News posted on its Web site instant messages -- reportedly between Foley and another former House page -- in which the lawmaker repeatedly tried to set up a dinner date and indicated that the boy had spent time with him in San Diego. Previously disclosed messages had not indicated that Foley was trying to make personal contact with the boys, who had served as runners and helpers for a year in Washington.

Foley abruptly resigned Friday, and his attorney David Roth said yesterday that the six-term lawmaker is now at an alcohol-treatment center in Florida. In a statement faxed to news outlets Sunday night -- Foley's only public comments since his resignation -- he said: "I deeply regret and accept full responsibility for the harm I have caused."

Roth, interviewed last night on CNN, said that Foley is "absolutely, positively not a pedophile" and "has never, ever had an inappropriate sexual contact with a minor in his life." He said Foley wrote the e-mails "under the influence of alcohol" and was "suffering from mental illness."

Officials from the liberal-leaning group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington said yesterday that they received copies of the Louisiana e-mails on July 21 and turned them over to the FBI the same day. Melanie Sloan, the group's executive director, said she spoke with a special agent in the Washington field office, and she questioned yesterday why the FBI did not investigate Foley weeks ago.

An FBI official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing, said the field office concluded that the e-mails "did not rise to the level of criminal activity." The bureau announced Sunday that it would begin a preliminary investigation into Foley's more explicit electronic exchanges with teenagers.

Some House Republicans said yesterday that the FBI and House leaders erred in not considering the e-mails -- and the concern they raised among the recipient's parents -- as justification for an inquiry.

"This thing should have been looked into months ago," said Rep. Walter B. Jones Jr. (R-N.C.), who said he is "disgusted" by his leaders' response. "That's abnormal for a 52-year-old man having those kinds of e-mails going to a 16-year-old child."

In a written statement, Rep. Christopher Shays (R-Conn.) said the Republican leadership needs to be shaken up. "If they knew or should have known the extent of this problem, they should not serve in leadership," he said.

Hastert, as the House's top officer and the man in line after the vice president to succeed the president, has been the main target of questions and barbs from both parties. He reiterated yesterday that he recalled hearing nothing about Foley's e-mails until last Friday, but he does not dispute the assertion of Rep. Thomas M. Reynolds (R-N.Y.) that he informed the speaker last spring.

"If Reynolds told me, it was in a line of things, and we were in the middle of another crisis this spring, so I just don't remember that," Hastert told reporters. He defended the decision by several top staffers to handle the Foley matter without telling him. "I see no reason to bump it up to me at that time," he said.

Hastert noted that the 2005 e-mails to the Louisiana teenager were ambiguous. In one, Foley asked the boy to send a picture of himself, which reportedly alarmed the youth and his parents. Hastert agreed yesterday that an adult's request for a teenager's photo "would raise a red flag." But he said he would not second-guess his party's handling of the situation.

The boy's parents approached the office of Rep. Rodney Alexander (R-La.) in late 2005, asking that Foley stop contacting their son and that the matter be kept quiet, according to House accounts.

Reynolds, who chairs his party's House campaign committee, and Majority Leader John A. Boehner (Ohio) were among prominent Republicans who also knew of the parents' concerns earlier this year. But the matter was left to Rep. John M. Shimkus (R-Ill.), who chairs the House Page Board, and then-House clerk Jeff Trandahl, also a board member.

Shimkus has said that Foley assured them that the e-mails were innocent, and that they closed the discussion by telling him to respect pages and to cease contacting the Louisiana boy. Trandahl, now executive director of the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, did not return phone calls yesterday.

Hastert said that he and other House leaders knew nothing of the instant messages between Foley and former pages in 2003 and 2004, which, ABC has reported, were much more graphic and discussed topics including masturbation.

ABC reported yesterday that Foley used the screen name "Maf54" and wrote a former page: "I miss you lots since san diego," to which the teenager responded, "ya I cant wait til dc." The youth asked, "did you pick a night for dinner." Maf54 replied, "not yet . . . but likely Friday."

In another exchange, Maf54 wrote, "I want to see you." The teenager replied, "Like I said not til feb . . . then we will go to dinner." Maf54: "and then what happens?" Teenager: "we eat . . . we drink . . . who knows . . . hang out . . . late into the night." When Maf54 pressed further, the teenager wrote, "hmmm, I have the feeling that you are fishing here . . . im not sure what I would be comfortable with . . . well see."

Rep. Shelley Moore Capito (W.Va.), Shimkus's fellow Republican on the Page Board, said she knew nothing of Foley's electronic exchanges until last week.

"As a member of the Page Board -- and, more importantly, as a mother -- I am appalled by Mark Foley's despicable conduct," she said. "I deeply regret not being made aware of this situation as a member of the Page Board."

White House spokesman Tony Snow contributed to the political firestorm yesterday when he told CNN the scandal involved "simply naughty e-mails." Democrats assailed the comment, and Snow later called the messages "disturbing," "appalling" and "reprehensible."


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