House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert said yesterday that Republican leaders had not previously seen the more lurid Internet “instant messages” sent by disgraced ex-Rep. Mark Foley as influential conservatives began calling for party leadership resignations over the handling of the matter.
“The instant messages reportedly between Congressman Foley and a former page, sent in 2003, were vile and repulsive,” Mr. Hastert said yesterday. “No one in the Republican leadership … saw those messages until last Friday when ABC News released them to the public.”
Had Mr. Foley not resigned immediately, he added, “I would have demanded his expulsion.”
Still, several well-known conservatives called for Republican resignations because, they said, Mr. Hastert and other leaders did not act aggressively enough when they first learned last year of a separate set of “overly friendly” e-mails that Mr. Foley had sent to another teenage former page.
“Speaker Hastert had knowledge of Congressman Foley’s inappropriate behavior and chose to protect a potential pedophile and powerful colleague over a congressional page,” David Bossie, president of the conservative group Citizens United, said yesterday.
“This inaction demonstrates a lack of leadership on Speaker Hastert’s part and calls into question both his judgment and character,” Mr. Bossie said. “If Speaker Hastert was willing to sacrifice a child to protect Representative Foley’s seat and his own leadership position, then he surely does not share our American and conservative values.”
Richard A. Viguerie, a founder of the conservative movement, called for the “immediate resignation of any House GOP leaders who had knowledge of former Congressman Mark Foley’s improper contact with underage pages — but who took no action.”
Mr. Hastert told reporters yesterday that he had been unaware of sexually explicit messages sent by Mr. Foley but had been told about previous, less sordid, messages in which the congressman asked a teen boy what he wanted for his birthday and whether he could provide a photograph of himself.
“There was nothing explicit in this e-mail that I understood,” Mr. Hastert told reporters yesterday. “His parents were protective of this thing and what they wanted was Mr. Foley … to stop contacting their son.”
The explanation did not convince Mr. Viguerie.
“When you have a 50-year-old man — who is a known homosexual — who wants a picture of a 16-year-old boy, that should send out some alarm bells,” he said. “This is almost like a Clinton-type response.”
Mr. Foley has refused to answer questions about his sexuality.
Nor did it convince conservative activist Bay Buchanan.
“That e-mail they call an ‘overly friendly’ e-mail — that had predator stamped all over it. There’s just no one in this country that can suggest otherwise,” said Mrs. Buchanan, the president of American Cause.
Such rebukes by conservative supporters yesterday erased any hopes by Republican leaders that they might curtail the political fallout from the scandal, which broke last week just as lawmakers were heading home for November elections that could end their near-continuous 12-year grip on Congress.