Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Democratic campaign operatives pushed newspapers to write about then-Rep. Mark Foley’s e-mails to teenage pages in the hope that a scandal would emerge before the midterm elections, according to a House ethics report.

The findings were bolstered when an aide to Rep. Rahm Emanuel, Illinois Democrat, said the congressman also knew about the e-mails, which were dubbed “inappropriate” by the ethics panel. Mr. Emanuel, who was chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) when Mr. Foley’s sex scandal broke in late September, had denied knowledge of the Florida Republican’s e-mails.

The House ethics panel, which is formally called the Standards of Official Conduct Committee, Friday released its final probe into Mr. Foley’s behavior, scolding Republicans for failing to act on years of troubling signs and naming Democrats who knew about the e-mails.

CNN first reported Saturday that Mr. Emanuel, the incoming chairman of the Democratic caucus, was “informed” but never saw the e-mails that Mr. Foley sent to a former page in the summer of 2005.

An Emanuel aide yesterday confirmed to The Washington Times that DCCC staffer Bill Burton told the congressman about the Foley e-mails in fall 2005. The aide said Mr. Emanuel took no action because the e-mails were mentioned in passing as a “rumor” about Mr. Foley.

On Oct. 8, Mr. Emanuel was put on the spot during his appearance on ABC’s “This Week.”

“Did you or your staff know anything about these e-mails or instant messages before they came out?” host George Stephanopoulos asked. Mr. Emanuel interrupted with “No.”

“George — Never saw ‘em,” he said twice.

When Rep. Adam H. Putnam, chairman of the Republican Policy Committee and a guest on the show, started questioning Mr. Emanuel, the DCCC chairman blanched.

“What you guys want to do is take your dirty laundry and throw it over the fence and try to blame other people for the problems,” Mr. Emanuel told the Florida Republican.

Rep. Patrick T. McHenry, North Carolina Republican, called the news “stunning,” and accused Mr. Emanuel of letting a “predator roam free” for “cold, calculated political advantage.”

The DCCC aide also told The Times that Democrats had no knowledge of the interest Mr. Foley had been displaying in pages, actions that prompted one Republican to tell the ethics panel Mr. Foley was like a “ticking time bomb.”

The ethics report outlined the Republicans who were uncomfortable for a decade with Mr. Foley’s behavior toward the pages, criticizing lawmakers for failing to follow up, but recommending no penalty. The panel found “political considerations played a role in decisions that were made,” and theorized Republicans didn’t act for fear of exposing Mr. Foley’s homosexuality.

The page, sponsored by Republican Rep. Rodney Alexander of Louisiana, said Mr. Foley was “starting to freak me out,” the panel reported. The 16-year-old forwarded the Foley e-mails to fellow Alexander staffer Danielle Savoy, wondering whether he was just being “paranoid.”

According to the panel, Miss Savoy forwarded the e-mails to a lobbyist friend, who forwarded them to her boyfriend, Justin Field, a staffer for the House Democratic Caucus. Mr. Field gave caucus press aide Matt Miller a copy of the e-mails. Mr. Miller testified he “feared nothing would come” of forwarding the messages to the ethics panel, which at the time was not even meeting because of partisan deadlock over other matters.

Instead, Mr. Miller redacted the page’s name and faxed copies of the e-mails to reporters in Florida. Mr. Miller then alerted Mr. Burton, who worked for Mr. Emanuel at the DCCC, to see if his hunch was correct that a Foley story was brewing.

Mr. Burton spoke with a few reporters about the e-mails and mentioned them to Mr. Emanuel in passing, the DCCC aide said.

According to ethics panel testimony by the page’s father, a staffer for Mr. Alexander told the family they did not have to speak with reporters who had been calling. The father also told the ethics panel that the staffer warned them that “Democrats would like to use something like this” for political gain.

ABC News first reported the existence of the e-mails to one page and later broke the news that Mr. Foley also had been sending sexually suggestive instant messages to other teenage pages. The news prompted Mr. Foley to resign and, according to most analysts, contributed to the Democratic wins in November.

The ethics report outlined several Republicans and staffers who were aware of Mr. Foley’s drunken late-night visit to the page dormitory, but concluded no Republicans knew about the sexually explicit instant messages.

The ethics panel said the tone of the e-mails and instant messages were vastly different, but said Republicans failed to exercise due diligence about the e-mails back in 2005, when the former page told his friends on Capitol Hill the Foley e-mails were “sick.”

Speaker-elect Nancy Pelosi of California yesterday announced changes to the page board’s structure and oversight in light of the ethics report. She said the board’s membership will expand to include two page parents and that it will now have equal numbers of Republicans and Democrats.

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