GOP leaders involved in Foley cover-up?

papersFrom NY TIMES:

G.O.P. Aides Knew in Late 05 of E-Mail



WASHINGTON, Sept. 30  Top House Republicans knew for months about e-mail traffic between Representative Mark Foley and a former teenage page, but kept the matter secret and allowed Mr. Foley to remain head of a Congressional caucus on children’s issues, Republican lawmakers said Saturday.

The exchanges began with what Republicans now describe as an overfriendly e-mail message from Mr. Foley to the unidentified teenager.

But news reports about the exchanges led to the disclosure of e-mail correspondence with other former pages in which the discussions became more and more sexually explicit. Shortly after he was confronted by ABC News on Friday about the subject, Mr. Foley, who represented a south Florida district, resigned from the House.

The revelations set off a political upheaval, with Democrats and some Republicans calling for a full investigation of Mr. Foley’s conduct and whether House leaders did enough to look into it. Members of the Republican leadership sought Saturday to detail how they had handled the case in an effort to defuse the situation, even as it was emerging as an issue in Congressional races.

Among those who became aware earlier this year of the fall 2005 communications between Mr. Foley and the 16-year-old page, who worked for Representative Rodney Alexander, Republican of Louisiana, were Representative John A. Boehner, the majority leader, and Representative Thomas M. Reynolds of New York, chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee. Mr. Reynolds said in a statement Saturday that he had also personally raised the issue with Speaker J. Dennis Hastert.

“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,” Mr. Reynolds said.

In a chronology of the episode released later on Saturday, the speaker’s office said Mr. Hastert did not recall any such discussion and had no previous knowledge of the matter. “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,” the statement said.

The statement, issued after senior aides, the House clerk and legal advisers huddled for much of Saturday in the Capitol, said senior staff members in the speaker’s office first learned of the e-mail messages from Mr. Alexander’s office in the fall of 2005 and took steps to investigate.

Aides to the speaker and other Congressional Republican leaders said the messages, which an Alexander aide described to them as “overfriendly,” were much less explicit than the others that came to light after ABC News first disclosed the e-mail correspondence with Mr. Alexander’s page. The aides said Mr. Alexander’s office, at the request of the page’s family, did not show them copies of the messages. In those messages, sent after Hurricane Katrina, Mr. Foley asked about the well-being of the boy, a Monroe, La., resident. He wrote: “How are you weathering the hurricane. . .are you safe. . .send me a pic of you as well.” The page sent the note to a former colleague, describing it as ‘sick.’

In another message, Mr. Foley wrote, “What do you want for your birthday coming up. . .what stuff do you like to do.”

The e-mail exchanges that came to light after the first news reports were far more graphic. When he was confronted about them on Friday, Mr. Foley resigned. Republican leaders said they had not known about the other e-mail correspondence.

“No one in the speaker’’ office was made aware of the sexually explicit text messages which press reports suggest had been directed to another individual until they were revealed in the press and on the Internet this week,” the statement from Mr. Hastert’s office said.

Both Republican and Democratic lawmakers said Saturday that Congress and the public deserved a full report on Mr. Foley’s dealings with the pages, who are high school students who serve as runners and perform other duties. The lawmakers said there should also be an inquiry into the leadership’s knowledge of his activities and its response.

“Anyone who was involved in the chain of information should come forward and tell when they were told, what they were told and what they did with the information when they got it,” said Representative Peter T. King, Republican of New York. Mr. King called it a “dark day” for Congress and said, “We need a full investigation.”

Representative Christopher Shays, Republican of Connecticut, said any leader who had been aware of Mr. Foley’s behavior and failed to take action should step down. “If they knew or should have known the extent of this problem, they should not serve in leadership,” Mr. Shays said.

On Saturday night, the House Republican leadership issued a statement that characterized the communications between Mr. Foley and the former House pages as “unacceptable and abhorrent.”

“It is an obscene breach of trust,” the statement said. “His immediate resignation must now be followed by the full weight of the criminal justice system.”

The statement, from Mr. Hastert, Mr. Boehner and the majority whip, Roy Blunt, asked the board that oversees pages to undertake a full review of the incident and propose additional safeguard measures.

The leaders also said they had asked for specific rules governing the communications and contacts between pages and lawmakers and called for creation of a toll-free number for pages and their parents to report concerns.

Besides the leaders, other lawmakers and Congressional officers who served on the board that oversaw the page program were aware of the e-mail messages, though the Democratic lawmaker who serves on the board, Representative Dale E. Kildee of Michigan, said Saturday that he had never been informed.

According to lawmakers and the speaker’s office, the page who received the e-mail forwarded the one in which Mr. Foley, 52, asked for his picture, to a colleague in Mr. Alexander’s office, repeatedly calling it “sick” and saying it ‘freaked me out.’’

Mr. Alexander called the boy’s parents, who, Republican leaders said Saturday, told him they did not want to pursue the matter but wanted Mr. Foley to stop.

Mr. Alexander’s office also contacted staff members in Mr. Hastert’s office for guidance on what to do and, according to the speaker’s account, his aides put Mr. Alexander’s staff in contact with the clerk of the House, who oversees the page program. The clerk, who at the time was Jeff Trandahl, referred the matter to Representative John Shimkus, the Illinois Republican who is the chairman of the House Page Board, in late 2005, a spokesman for Mr. Shimkus said.

Mr. Trandahl and Mr. Shimkus confronted Mr. Foley, who insisted he was simply acting as a mentor to the former page, officials said. He assured them nothing inappropriate had occurred.

“They asked Foley about the e-mail,” the speaker’s statement said. “Congressman Shimkus and the clerk made it clear that to avoid even the appearance of impropriety and at the request of the parents, Congressman Foley was to immediately cease any communication with the young man.’’

The leadership had other possible avenues for investigating the e-mail messages beyond questioning Mr. Foley, including an inquiry by the ethics committee or even the Capitol police. But aides said that while the contents of the messages are disturbing in hindsight, they did not set off alarms initially.

On Saturday, Mr. Shimkus’ spokesman, Steve Tomaszewski, said, “Obviously Foley lied about the other e-mails.”

Mr. Tomaszewski said Mr. Shimkus would not comment on any other conversations he had with House leaders about the matter because it was referred to the ethics committee by a vote of the House on Friday. A spokesman for Mr. Alexander did not respond to telephone and e-mail messages.

Kevin Madden, a spokesman for Mr. Boehner, said Saturday that Mr. Boehner had had a “brief, nonspecific” conversation about the subject with Mr. Alexander in the spring but that he could not recall with certainty whether he had discussed it with other leaders.

Democrats moved quickly to criticize Mr. Reynolds, who while overseeing House campaigns nationally is facing the potential of a serious challenge from Jack Davis, a wealthy businessman who has vowed to spend at least $2 million of his own money in the contest. “Tom Reynolds had a moral obligation to protect our children,” said Curtis Ellis, a spokesman for Mr. Davis.

Carl Forti, a spokesman for Mr. Reynolds, said the congressman became aware of contact between Mr. Foley and the young page this past spring, when Mr. Alexander brought it to his attention. Mr. Forti said that Mr. Alexander had told Mr. Reynolds of an e-mail exchange between Mr. Foley and the page, but that he did not show Mr. Reynolds the e-mail messages and their contents.

Strategists for both parties said it was too early to tell what impact the episode might have on Congressional elections now five weeks away but said at a minimum it could lower the already dismal public view of incumbents and discourage conservative voters.

It directly affected the race for the seat of Mr. Foley  the third Republican to resign this year under a cloud. Tim Mahoney, the Democrat who had been running an uphill and barely watched race against Mr. Foley, used the new attention to his campaign on Saturday to accuse the Republican leadership of covering up for him.

“It’s now clear from all the reports coming in from across the country that the Republican leadership team has been well aware of this problem with the pages for well over a year,” Mr. Mahoney said at a campaign stop at Palm Beach International Airport. “It looks to me that it was more important to hold onto a seat and to hold onto power than to take care of our children.”

At the Justice Department, an official said that no investigation was under way but that the agency had ‘real interest’ in examining the circumstances to see if any crimes were committed.

Several of Mr. Foley’s former colleagues demanded a criminal inquiry.

Representative Robert E. Cramer, an Alabama Democrat who was co-chairman with Mr. Foley of the House Caucus on Missing and Exploited Children, condemned Mr. Foley’s actions as “shocking and disturbing.”

“Anyone, including Foley, involved in this type of behavior should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” Mr. Cramer said.

Kate Zernike contributed reporting from New York, David Johnston from Washington and Abby Goodnough from West Palm Beach, Fla.