- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 4, 2006

President Bush and other Republicans defended House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert yesterday against Democrats and conservatives who have called for his resignation over the handling of sexually explicit Internet messages former Rep. Mark Foley wrote a teenage boy who had worked as a congressional page.

“I know Denny Hastert, I meet with him a lot,” Mr. Bush said yesterday. “He is a father, teacher, coach, who cares about the children of this country.”

Mr. Bush said he was “disgusted” by Mr. Foley’s behavior and said he supports Mr. Hastert’s call for a full investigation. “I’m confident he will provide whatever leadership he can to law enforcement in this investigation,” he said.

Earlier this week, several conservatives called for Mr. Hastert’s resignation 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.

“[N]o one in the leadership, including Speaker Hastert, had any knowledge of the warped and sexually explicit instant messages that were revealed by ABC News last Friday,” Majority Leader John A. Boehner wrote yesterday in a letter to The Washington Times, whose editorial board called on Mr. Hastert to step down.

“Had Speaker Hastert or anyone else in our leadership known about Mr. Foley’s despicable conduct, I’m confident the speaker would have moved to expel Mr. Foley immediately and turn him over to the appropriate authorities,” the Ohio Republican said.

Bush spokeswoman Dana Perino said the president has not personally spoken to Mr. Hastert in “the last few days,” although the White House and the speaker’s office are in “regular contact.”

Asked what the president thought about the calls for Mr. Hastert’s resignation, she replied that Mr. Bush wants to know all the facts.

“The speaker called for the investigation, the president supports that, and one is under way. And so let’s let that play out,” Mrs. Perino said.

As House Republicans worked to show unified support for Mr. Hastert, new “instant messages” between Mr. Foley and a former page surfaced.

“Former Congressman Mark Foley (R-FL) interrupted a vote on the floor of the House in 2003 to engage in Internet sex with a high school student who had served as a congressional page,” ABC reported on its Web site yesterday. The network did not include the exact exchange, for reasons of taste, but said it occurred during the April 2003 House vote to provide $78.5 billion in emergency spending for military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Those messages were among 52 new ones obtained by the network between a teenage boy and Mr. Foley, who used the handle “Maf54” — Mr. Foley’s initials followed by the year of his birth.

In another instant message, Mr. Foley invites the boy to his house near the Capitol for alcohol. “We may need to drink at my house so we don’t get busted,” he writes in one.

In Florida, meanwhile, Mr. Foley’s attorney, David Roth, held a press conference last night to announce that Mr. Foley had been molested by clergy in his early teens. The lawyer did not specify what religion the clergyman was, but Mr. Foley is Roman Catholic. The lawyer also made the first public acknowledgment that Mr. Foley is a homosexual.

Mr. Foley is “recovering” in a clinic for alcoholism, though friends and staffers have told reporters that they were unaware that the six-term congressman had a drinking problem.

The former congressman is a “closet drinker,” Mr. Roth said. “This is part of his recovery.”

In Washington, Democrats and some conservatives continued their assault on Republican leaders for the scandal and many lower-ranking House Republicans did all they could to distance themselves from leadership and the whole sordid mess.

“Mark Foley is a pedophile who should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” Rep. Jim Gerlach, Pennsylvania Republican, said emphatically yesterday. “Additionally, there needs to be a full and complete FBI investigation into this matter immediately. If it is found that any member of leadership, Republican or Democrat, or any member of Congress knew of the inappropriate conduct and did nothing to stop it, they should immediately resign from Congress.”

Mr. Gerlach, who faces a tough re-election campaign, also postponed a scheduled fundraiser with Mr. Boehner “because he felt it was inappropriate to move ahead with it as planned.” The Republican also donated $1,000 in campaign contributions from Mr. Foley to a local crime victims group.

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