By AMIE PARNES
Scripps Howard News Service
September 29, 2006
House Speaker Dennis Hastert ordered an investigation "to make sure our pages are safe."
In a statement, Foley said, "I am deeply sorry and I apologize for letting down my family and the people of Florida I have had the privilege to represent."
Foley, 52, a six-term congressman and deputy House whip, said his resignation was effective immediately. In his statement, only three sentences, he did not explain why he was quitting.
But ABC News reported that Foley resigned after the network's reporters questioned him about sexually explicit Internet messages with current and former congressional pages under the age of 18.
Hours before Foley resigned, ABC reported that reporters read Foley excerpts of instant messages provided by former male pages who said the congressman, under the AOL Instant Messenger screen name Maf54, "made repeated references to sexual organs and acts."
At a news conference, Hastert said Foley had "done the right thing" by resigning. Hastert said he asked Rep. John Shimkus, R-Ill., who oversees the congressional page program, to conduct an investigation.
"We want to make sure all our pages are safe and that the page system is safe," Hastert said.
The Foley emails, which were sent from the lawmaker's personal American Online account, surfaced first Sunday on an Internet blog devoted to exposing sexual predators, according to the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.
But the St. Petersburg Times newspaper reported that it had interviewed the youth last November - when he was a 16-year-old congressional page - and said that he had cut off correspondence with Foley. The newspaper also said the young man said he was not seeking publicity.
Copies of several emails written by the young man and posted on the CREW Web site Friday discussed his revulsion at what he interpreted as a come-on by Foley.
Included were a string messages to the former page that included questions about his age, what he wanted for his birthday and a request for a photo.
"Sick sick sick sick sick sick sick sick sick sick sick sick sick," the former page wrote, recounting the messages from Foley.
"Maybe it's just me being paranoid but seriously," he wrote, "this freaked me out."
Foley had said Thursday that there was nothing inappropriate in the messages.
One former page in Foley's office, contacted by the Stuart (Fla.) News, defended the congressman. "Mark Foley never violated my trust or the trust of any of my peers and I'm really thankful for the opportunity he has given me," said Anthony Bonna, 19.
The Republican's resignation shook up the national elections less than six weeks away. Democrats are trying to win 15 seats to regain a majority in the House of Representatives. Foley had been expected to coast to re-election. It was not clear how Republicans will fill his spot on the November ballot. But only moments after Foley resigned, one Republican - state Rep. Joe Negron of Stuart, Fla. - expressed interest in running. Negron heads the appropriations committee in the Florida Legislature
Before Foley resigned, the watchdog group CREW sent a letter to the House ethics committee also asking for an investigation into his correspondence with the youth, who had worked for Rep. Rodney Alexander, R-La.
Melanie Sloan, executive director of CREW said, "The House of Representatives has the responsibility to protect teenagers who come to Congress to learn about the legislative process. The ethics committee has a moral obligation to investigate any allegation that a page has been subjected to sexual advances by a member of Congress and, should the allegations prove true, take swift action to punish the offender."
"The ethics committee should determine whether Rep. Foley's e-mails to the former page were improper," Sloan said.
CREW said it was basing its call for an investigation on past House actions against congressmen. In 1983, the House censured two members of Congress - Reps. Dan Crane, R-Ill., and Gerry Studds, D-Mass. - for having sexual relationships with pages. In 1990, the ethics committee publicly disapproved of the conduct of Rep. Gus Savage, D-Ill., who had made sexual advances to a Peace Corps volunteer. In all three cases, the ethics committee relied on the House rule prohibiting conduct that does not reflect creditably on the House, CREW said.
On Thursday, Foley spokesman Jason Kello said the e-mail exchange between Foley and the congressional page was "purely innocent" and called it "a smear campaign" by Foley's opponent in November's election, Democratic businessman Tim Mahoney.
"It's character assassination," Kello said. "The e-mails in question were a response to a handwritten thank-you letter from a former page.
"There have not been any allegations made by anyone except Tim Mahoney and the Democrats who are attempting to misrepresent a series of innocent communications to prop up a falling political campaign," Kello added.
Thursday, Mahoney had also called for an investigation into Foley's e-mails. In a statement, Mahoney's campaign said, "the seriousness of these allegations goes far beyond the tit for tat of a political campaign."
"Tim Mahoney does not believe Congressman Foley's sexual orientation, whatever it may be, should be an issue in this campaign," said Jessica Santillo, a spokesman for the Mahoney campaign. "However, the serious nature of the allegations in question should be reviewed by the appropriate authorities."
The e-mails began after the 16-year-old had completed the congressional page program in Washington and had returned to his hometown, Kello said.
Before leaving Washington, the page gave Foley a handwritten thank-you note that included his e-mail address, Kello said. Several weeks later, Foley e-mailed the former page and began the month-long exchange, Kello said.
"Glad your (sic) home safe and sound," Foley wrote in one e-mail. "We don't go back into session until Sept 5...so it's a nice long break...I am back in Florida now...it's nice here...been raining today...it sounds like you will have some fun over the next few weeks...how old are you now?" In another e-mail, Foley wrote: "well do miss DC...It's raining here but 68 degrees so who can argue...did you have fun at your conference...what do you want for your birthday coming up...what stuff do you like to do."
In a third e-mail, Foley wrote: "how are you weathering the hurricane...are you safe...send me an email pic of you as well..."
Kello said the congressman keeps resumes and pictures of people who want letters of recommendation or future jobs. But Kello acknowledged that the teenager hadn't expressed interest in a job in Foley's office.
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