GOP Leader Rebuts Hastert on Foley

By Jonathan Weisman and Charles Babington
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, October 1, 2006

House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) was notified early this year of inappropriate e-mails from former representative Mark Foley (R-Fla.) to a 16-year-old page, a top GOP House member said yesterday -- contradicting the speaker's assertions that he learned of concerns about Foley only last week.

Hastert did not dispute the claims of Rep. Thomas M. Reynolds (R-N.Y.), and his office confirmed that some of Hastert's top aides knew last year that Foley had been ordered to cease contact with the boy and to treat all pages respectfully.

Reynolds, chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, became the second senior House Republican to say that Hastert has known of Foley's contacts for months, prompting Democratic attacks about the GOP leadership's inaction. Foley abruptly resigned his seat Friday.

House Majority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) told The Washington Post on Friday that he had learned in late spring of inappropriate e-mails Foley sent to the page, a boy from Louisiana, and that he promptly told Hastert, who appeared to know already of the concerns. Hours later, Boehner contacted The Post to say he could not be sure he had spoken with Hastert.

Yesterday's developments revealed a rift at the highest echelons of House Republican ranks a month before the Nov. 7 elections, and they threatened to expand the scandal to a full-blown party dilemma.

Only after Reynolds's definitive statement did Hastert concede yesterday that he may have been notified of some of the questionable activities of Foley, 52, who had co-chaired the Congressional Missing and Exploited Children's Caucus. Hastert said, however, that he knew nothing of the sexually explicit instant messages that became public Friday when ABC News and other news outlets reported them. The messages apparently were exchanged with youths other than the 16-year-old.

Hastert's aides learned in the fall of 2005 only of e-mail exchanges that House officials eventually deemed "over-friendly" with the Louisiana teenager, the speaker's office said yesterday in a lengthy statement. "While the Speaker does not explicitly recall this conversation" with Reynolds, the statement said, "he has no reason to dispute Congressman Reynolds's recollection that he reported to him on the problem and its resolution."

Boehner and Reynolds said their offices learned of the Foley e-mails months ago from Rep. Rodney Alexander (R), who sponsored the page from his northeastern-Louisiana district.

"Rodney Alexander brought to my attention the existence of the e-mails between Mark Foley and a former page of Mr. Alexander's," Reynolds said yesterday. "Despite the fact that I had not seen the e-mails in question, and Mr. Alexander told me that the parents didn't want the matter pursued, I told the speaker of the conversation Mr. Alexander had with me."

GOP leaders have said they referred the matter promptly to Rep. John M. Shimkus (R-Ill.), who heads a three-lawmaker panel that oversees the House page program.

Shimkus questioned Foley, but at that time, he had seen only suspiciously friendly e-mails, not the explicit instant messages revealed recently. In one e-mail to the former page, for example, Foley asked for a picture of him. The boy reportedly told an associate that he considered the request to be "sick," but Foley convinced Shimkus that the exchanges were innocent, Shimkus and Republican leaders said.

Republicans appeared to have kept the matter under wraps. Rep. Dale E. Kildee (Mich.), the only Democrat on the House Page Board, said yesterday: "I was never informed of the allegations about Mr. Foley's inappropriate communications with a House page, and I was never involved in any inquiry into this matter."

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