By Jonathan Weisman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, October 9, 2006
A Republican congressman knew of disgraced former representative Mark Foley's inappropriate Internet exchanges as far back as 2000 and personally confronted Foley about his communications.
A spokeswoman for Rep. Jim Kolbe (R-Ariz.) confirmed yesterday that a former page showed the congressman Internet messages that had made the youth feel uncomfortable with the direction Foley (R-Fla.) was taking their e-mail relationship. Last week, when the Foley matter erupted, a Kolbe staff member suggested to the former page that he take the matter to the clerk of the House, Karen Haas, said Kolbe's press secretary, Korenna Cline.
The revelation pushes back by at least five years the date when a member of Congress has acknowledged learning of Foley's behavior with former pages. A timeline issued by House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) suggested that the first lawmakers to know, Rep. John M. Shimkus (R-Ill.), the chairman of the House Page Board, and Rep. Rodney Alexander (R-La.), became aware of "over-friendly" e-mails only last fall. It also expands the universe of players in the drama beyond members, either in leadership or on the page board.
A source with direct knowledge of Kolbe's involvement said the messages shared with Kolbe were sexually explicit, and he read the contents to The Washington Post under the condition that they not be reprinted. But Cline denied the source's characterization, saying only that the messages had made the former page feel uncomfortable. Nevertheless, she said, "corrective action" was taken. Cline said she has not yet determined whether that action went beyond Kolbe's confrontation with Foley.
In interviews with The Post last week, multiple pages identified Kolbe as a close friend and personal confidante who was one of the only members of Congress to take any interest in them. A former page himself, Kolbe offered to mentor pages and kept in touch with some of them after they left the program, according to the interviews.
Kolbe once invited four former pages to make use of his Washington home while he was out of town, according to an instant message between Foley and another former page, Jordan Edmund, in January 2002. The pages planned to attend a first-year reunion of their page class. But because of a snowstorm, they did not take Kolbe up on his offer, according to one of the four pages.
Cline said one of the youths invited was a former page of Kolbe's. Because the congressman frequently travels on weekends, either to his Arizona ranch or abroad, the house is often available to friends, constituents, staffers and former staff members, such as a former page, she said.
Kolbe, the only openly gay Republican in Congress, is retiring at the end of the year.
The latest revelation in the growing House page scandal comes just a month before crucial midterm elections. Foley resigned Sept. 29 after ABC News confronted him with the sexually explicit messages that he exchanged with a former page, triggering investigations by the Justice Department, the House ethics committee and Florida authorities.
Hastert and his top aides have been sharply criticized by Democrats and some conservative Republicans for failing to act promptly after receiving warnings that Foley had been sexually predatory in dealing with pages and former pages. Ron Bonjean, the speaker's spokesman, said yesterday: "Allegations of inappropriate conduct by members of Congress towards pages need to be fully reviewed by the ethics committee and law enforcement."
In addressing the revelation about Kolbe, Bonjean said, "This allegation reiterates why the speaker has also called for a full review of the House page program to ensure that it is as safe and secure as possible."
A new poll by Newsweek indicates the Foley scandal is doing significant damage to the Republicans' political fortunes and could sink their chances of holding onto control of Congress on Election Day, Nov. 7. The poll found that 52 percent of Americans, including 29 percent of Republicans, believe Hastert was aware of Foley's Internet communications with underage pages and tried to cover up Foley's actions. More of those polled, 42 percent, now say they trust Democrats to do a better job handling moral values than Republicans; 36 percent favored Republicans on the values question.
In a sharp exchange on "Fox News Sunday," Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.), the vice chairman of the House Republican Conference, insinuated that Democrats were behind the revelations of Foley's actions and the release of electronic messages showing Foley having sexually graphic or highly suggestive conversations with former pages.
"What I don't understand is where have these e-mails been for three years? Are we saying that a 15-year-old child would have sat on e-mails that were triple-X-rated for three years and suddenly spring them out right on the eve of an election? That's just a little bit too suspicious, even for Washington, D.C.," Kingston said.
Rep. Martin T. Meehan (D-Mass.) shot back, "If there's any evidence that you need that the values in Washington have turned upside down, you could just hear what Jack had to say. Only in Washington, D.C., can you take a group of people in charge of the House and basically have evidence that they've been looking the other way while a predator has been . . . going after 15- and 16-year-old pages, [and] they somehow . . . have the audacity to turn that into a political attack against Democrats."
So far, only ABC News and The Washington Post are known to have obtained the sexually explicit instant messages between two former pages and Foley. The Post obtained its copies from a former page who served on Capitol Hill with the other two pages.
Staff writer James V. Grimaldi contributed to this report.