- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 3, 2006

Speaker J. Dennis Hastert brushed aside any suggestion of resignation today as House Republican leaders tried to contain the fallout from an election-year scandal involving sexually explicit messages from a disgraced lawmaker to underage male pages.

Mr. Hastert issued a written statement as Majority Leader John A. Boehner said Mr. Hastert had assured him months ago the matter had been taken care of. “It’s in his corner. It’s his responsibility,” Mr. Boehner, Ohio Republican, said in an interview on radio station WLW in Cincinnati.

The lawmaker, former Republican Rep. Mark Foley of Florida, resigned abruptly on Friday and has since checked himself into an alcohol rehabilitation program at an undisclosed location.

His departure left behind a trail of questions concerning the e-mails and instant messages he had sent pages over an unknown period of time. Beyond the details of his actions, Republican leaders feared the impact on the Nov. 7 elections and the possible loss of their House majority.

The Washington Times called for Mr. Hastert’s resignation, and at least one conservative activist has done likewise.

In response, Mr. Hastert’s spokesman, Ron Bonjean, issued a statement that said the speaker “has and will lead the Republican conference to another majority in the 110th Congress.”

Mr. Hastert, Illinois Republican, and other leaders have laid out a complicated series of events. They say they first became aware of overly friendly e-mails from Mr. Foley to one underage male page last spring, but had no idea that the congressman had sent other sexually explicit messages to additional pages.

Even before then, Mr. Foley had been confronted in the fall of 2005 about his communications with the page, and told to break off contact with him and all other pages.

According to a weekend statement issued by Mr. Hastert’s office, Rep. John Shimkus, Illinois Republican, Congressional Page Board chairman, and the House clerk, met with the Florida lawmaker and told him to “immediately cease any communication” with the page.

Mr. Boehner, the second-ranking GOP leader, became the latest member of the party’s high command to outline his involvement when he answered questions in his radio interview.

“I believe I talked to the speaker, and he told me it had been taken care of,” he said, when asked about the e-mails that were not sexually explicit. He said that had occurred last spring.

“In my position, it’s in his corner. It’s his responsibility. The clerk of the House, who runs the page program, the page board, all report to the speaker, and I believed it had been dealt with. Again, I didn’t know the context of what even the original message (said),” he added.

Mr. Boehner noted that his daughter had been a Senate page several years ago, and said of Mr. Foley, “If I’d known anything about the context of all this when it occurred, I’d have drug him out of there by his shirt-sleeves.”

The FBI announced over the weekend it was opening a preliminary investigation into the matter, but that, like much else, was a matter of confusion.

One law enforcement official said the FBI originally was given some Foley-related e-mail correspondence in July, but concluded that no federal law had been violated.

The agency reopened its preliminary investigation Sunday.

The law enforcement official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the ongoing investigation, would not detail how many e-mails the FBI initially received or whether they came from multiple sources.

Meeting with reporters yesterday, Mr. Hastert said his aides and Rep. Rodney Alexander, Louisiana Republican, heeded the wishes of the parents of the former House page, who wanted such questionable e-mails to stop but didn’t want the matter pursued. Mr. Shimkus, a fellow Illinois Republican and the man who oversaw the House program, along with the House clerk, told Mr. Foley last fall to cut off all communication with the former page, who lived in Louisiana.

Mr. Hastert says neither Mr. Shimkus nor his own aides saw the 2005 e-mail, noting that it was far less sexually explicit than the electronic messages that ABC News revealed last week.

“There wasn’t much there other than a friendly inquiry,” Mr. Hastert said of the 2005 message from Mr. Foley, described as “sick” by the boy. The message asked for a photograph and mentioned a different teen who was in “great shape.”

Mr. Hastert said neither he nor other GOP leaders were aware until last Friday of the reportedly far more lurid computer exchanges two years earlier between the Florida Republican and another page. He urged anyone with sexually graphic e-mails that preceded Mr. Foley’s resignation to contact authorities.

Mr. Foley’s attorney, David Roth, told a news conference in West Palm Beach. Fla., yesterday that Mr. Foley was “absolutely, positively not a pedophile” and had never had inappropriate sexual contact with a minor.

ABC News reported that its initial report prompted another former page to come forward with a graphic e-mail.

Mr. Hastert said he does not recall being told last spring by Rep. Tom Reynolds, the House GOP campaign chairman, about the questionable e-mail, but he doesn’t dispute Mr. Reynolds’ account.

“I don’t think I went wrong at all,” Mr. Reynolds said at a Monday evening news conference in his western New York district, surrounding himself with about 30 children and about as many parents. “I don’t know what else I could have done.”

Mr. Shimkus, appearing with Mr. Hastert, said new measures would be implemented to keep pages safe, including a toll-free hot line for pages, former pages and families to report any incidents confidentially.

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