How the Foley scandal unfolded

The ex- congressman's e-mails to teenage boys have sparked FBI and House probes, hurting GOP leaders.

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

One week after Rep. Mark Foley (R) of Florida resigned over sexually explicit electronic messages to teenage boys, the firestorm rages. The scandal has unleashed furious finger-pointing among Capitol Hill Republicans, the resignation of a top House aide, and Democratic charges of a coverup – all as the Nov. 7 congressional elections draw near.

Thursday, the bipartisan House Ethics Committee met behind closed doors to discuss Mr. Foley's actions and the House GOP leadership's handling of early warnings that Foley was behaving inappropriately toward former pages, high school students who work on the Hill as messengers. The committee, which launched an investigation, approved four dozen subpoenas for witnesses and documents.

Both the FBI and Florida law enforcement have started preliminary inquiries, in advance of a possible full criminal investigation into whether Foley violated any laws. House officials have been ordered to "preserve all records" relevant to the matter. Here are the facts so far:

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Why did Foley resign?

The six-term member representing Florida's 16th district abruptly quit last Friday after ABC News presented to him the texts of lewd instant-message conversations he had carried on with male former pages in 2003. After resigning, Foley checked into an alcohol-rehab facility in Florida, citing alcoholism and "other behavioral issues." Through his lawyer, he also announced that he was gay and had been abused by a clergyman as a young teen, though he had "never attempted to have sexual contact with a minor."

Foley has not disavowed any of the e-mail and instant-message exchanges that have come to light, and has offered no excuses, his lawyer said. At least one exchange suggests an effort to meet in person with a former page, though it is not known how old the ex-page would have been at the time.

Why are Speaker Dennis Hastert of Illinois and other House GOP leaders in political trouble?

Critics, both Republican and Democrat, say the leaders had received enough evidence earlier this year that Foley was behaving inappropriately to warrant further investigation. The incident that critics say should have triggered concern centered on an e-mail exchange last fall that Foley had had with a former page sponsored by Rep. Rodney Alexander (R) of Louisiana. The e-mails, which the boy's family had brought to the attention of Mr. Alexander's staff, were not overtly sexual, but rather "over-friendly," according to Alexander's office. Still, the content – including a request from Foley that the boy send a picture of himself and asking him what he wanted for his birthday – had made the boy uncomfortable.

Alexander's staff then contacted the office of Speaker Hastert about the e-mails, but did not reveal their exact content, citing the family's request to keep the matter quiet. Hastert's office referred the matter to Rep. John Shimkus (R) of Illinois, chair of the House Page Board, which oversees the page program. The other two members of the board, including a Democrat, were not informed. Mr. Shimkus and the clerk of the House, who runs the page program, told Foley to stop contact with the boy.

In spring 2006, Alexander mentioned the Foley situation to the No. 2 House Republican, John Boehner of Ohio, who suggested he contact Rep. Tom Reynolds (R) of New York, who heads the House's GOP campaign committee. Reps. Boehner and Reynolds say they discussed the matter with Hastert, but the speaker says he does not recall such a conversation. Hastert maintains that he knew nothing of any inappropriate behavior toward former pages by Foley until last week.

Why did Reynolds's chief of staff, Kirk Fordham, just resign?

Mr. Fordham, who had been Foley's chief of staff for 10 years, until 2004, quit Wednesday over a dispute with Hastert's chief of staff, Scott Palmer. Fordham says he had brought concerns about Foley's behavior to Mr. Palmer before 2004. Palmer denies the allegation. Fordham told reporters he resigned so he would not become a political liability to Reynolds, who is in a tough reelection battle. Fordham has pledged to cooperate with the FBI investigation.

Besides ABC News, what other news outlets and watchdog groups knew of the Foley allegations?

Last fall, the St. Petersburg Times and the Miami Herald received copies of Foley's e-mail exchange with the Louisiana boy. Their sources have not been revealed. Both papers looked into the matter, but decided not to publish anything, because no sources would speak on the record and because the e-mails were ambiguous.

Brian Ross of ABC News told The New York Times he received the "overfriendly" Foley e-mails in August, and published a story on Sept. 28, the day before he presented the more explicit exchanges to Foley. The group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, run by former Democratic congressional aides, got copies of Foley's overfriendly e-mails in July, and forwarded them to the FBI, which chose not to act. The website www.stopsexpredators.blogspot.com, run by a blogger who has not revealed his or her identity in public, was also among the first media outlets to post the overfriendly e-mails.

After that initial wave of publicity, it appears that former pages came forward with the more-sexual material.

What is the page program and what problems has it had in the past?

Pages are high school juniors who come from all over the country to work on Capitol Hill as messengers. They live in supervised dormitories and attend a special school for pages. In July 1983, the House Ethics Committee found that Reps. Dan Crane (R) of Illinois and Gerry Studds (D) of Massachusetts had both engaged in sexual relationships with 17-year-old congressional pages – Mr. Crane with a female and Mr. Studds with a male. Both members were reprimanded. Studds went on to win reelection to Congress several times until his retirement. Crane lost reelection in 1984.

How is Hastert continuing to defend himself?

Thursday, the speaker took responsibility for the scandal, but held his ground against pressure to resign.

"I'm deeply sorry this has happened, and the bottom line is we're taking responsibility," Hastert said outside his district office in Batavia, Ill. "Ultimately, the buck stops here."

He also praised the ethics committee's actions and said he would instruct his attorney to cooperate with the panel.

Before Thursday, the speaker had been making the rounds of conservative talk-radio shows, maintaining he had no knowledge of any inappropriate behavior by Foley until last week and blaming the media and Democrats for fanning the flames of scandal.

"The people who want to see this thing blow up are ABC News and a lot of Democratic operatives, people funded by George Soros," Hastert said in an interview with the Chicago Tribune on Wednesday. Mr. Soros is a billionaire benefactor of liberal causes.

But it appears at least one source of information is a Republican. The Thursday edition of the Capitol Hill newspaper The Hill reports: "The source who in July gave news media Rep. Mark Foley's (R-Fla.) suspect e-mails to a former House page says the documents came to him from a House GOP aide. That aide has been a registered Republican since becoming eligible to vote." The Hill reporter writes that the source showed him public records supporting his claim.

Also, some conservatives who had called on Hastert to resign earlier in the week have now backed away from that call, including Paul Weyrich, the founding president of the Heritage Foundation. In a Monitor interview on Tuesday, Mr. Weyrich said he believed Hastert should resign. The next day, he told National Public Radio that he had changed his mind, pending further investigation of the Foley situation.

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.

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