Foley Lawyer Cites Alcohol, Childhood Abuse

David Roth, attorney for former representative Mark Foley, leaves a news conference in West Palm Beach, Fla., in which he said Foley had been abused as a teenager.
David Roth, attorney for former representative Mark Foley, leaves a news conference in West Palm Beach, Fla., in which he said Foley had been abused as a teenager. (By Lannis Waters -- Palm Beach Post)
By Charles Babington and Dan Balz
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, October 4, 2006

Disgraced former lawmaker Mark Foley's behavior was affected by alcoholism and childhood molestation but he "never attempted to have sexual contact with a minor," his attorney said yesterday in the first extensive defense of the Florida Republican's actions, which have rocked Congress and the GOP.

The comments came as embattled House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) turned to conservative radio hosts to defend his handling of the Foley matter, and rank-and-file House Republicans took a wait-and-see approach on their leader's fate. President Bush praised Hastert, but the House's second-ranking Republican challenged the speaker's account of how the scandal unfolded.

Lawyer David Roth told reporters in Florida that Foley was intoxicated when he sent lewd electronic messages to former House pages but was always sober when conducting official business during his 12 years in Congress. Roth said he could not explain new reports of an exchange in which Foley appeared to be having Internet sex with a youth while participating in a House roll-call vote.

Roth also said that Foley is gay, and that when Foley was 13 to 15 years old he was abused by a clergyman. Foley, who is single and Roman Catholic, will fully cooperate with law enforcement officers and will preserve all records, e-mails and other items they might want to review, Roth said. "Nothing will be altered," he said.

Foley, 52, abruptly resigned his seat Friday and checked into an alcohol-treatment facility in Florida.

While Roth was speaking to reporters, federal agents were interviewing former House pages and trying to determine whether Foley crossed state lines to have sex with minors or enticed minors to travel across state lines for a sexual encounter, law enforcement officials said. The widening investigation comes amid reports of electronic messages in which Foley appeared to refer to past or future meetings with former pages, in Washington and other cities.

The investigation is being run by the FBI's Washington Field Office, with close supervision from the Cyber Division and other senior officials at FBI headquarters, said an official speaking on background. Other FBI field offices -- including the one in Miami that covers Foley's home district -- are involved in chasing specific leads and conducting local interviews, the official said.

While federal authorities began their investigation, the debate over the GOP's handling of the Foley matter raged on. The Washington Times's conservative editorial page called on Hastert to resign the speakership. It joined other critics in saying that Hastert and a few lieutenants tried to smother a 2005 complaint about Foley instead of opening inquiries that might have uncovered raunchier exchanges in 2003 with teenagers who had spent a semester on Capitol Hill.

Hastert turned to half a dozen friendly talk-radio hosts to repeat his argument that the early warnings did not justify punishing Foley or launching an internal investigation of his conduct. They involved e-mails in 2005 from Foley asking a Louisiana boy for his birthday wishes and a photograph, which alarmed the youth and his parents. Moreover, Hastert told Rush Limbaugh, "We did not know what the text of that message was because the parents held it and they didn't want it revealed."

Few Republican House members -- who control Hastert's fate -- made comments for or against the speaker. Majority Leader John A. Boehner (Ohio) told a Cincinnati radio station that he spoke to Hastert this spring of the early concerns about Foley, one of two such reported conversations that Hastert says he does not recall. "My position is it's in his corner, it's his responsibility," Boehner said.

Later, Boehner issued a letter saying that Hastert should not resign. Reps. Henry A. Hyde (R-Ill.) and John Shadegg (R-Ariz.) also wrote letters supporting Hastert, but they were not co-signed by colleagues, as such letters often are.

Bush, in his first comments about the scandal, condemned Foley's behavior and praised Hastert but refused to take questions about whether he agrees with conservatives who have called on the speaker to resign his post. "I was disgusted by the revelations and disappointed that he [Foley] would violate the trust of the citizens who placed him in office," Bush said at an elementary school during a campaign swing in California.

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