Correction to This Article
An Oct. 11 article incorrectly said that the e-mails sent by then-Rep. Mark Foley (R-Fla.) to a former congressional page in Louisiana were sent in 2004. The e-mails, which were later called "over-friendly" by House Republican leaders, were sent in 2005.

History of Foley Messages' Release Clarified by Players

By Jonathan Weisman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Two of the news media's sources of Mark Foley's sexually explicit instant messages to former House pages said this week that they came forward to expose the Florida congressman's actions, not to help the Democrats in the midterm elections.

But there are indications that Democrats spent months circulating five less insidious Foley e-mails to news organizations before they were finally published by ABC News late last month, which prompted the leaking of the more salacious instant messages. Harper's Magazine said yesterday that it obtained the five e-mails from a Democratic Party operative, albeit in May, long before the election season.

The genesis of the Foley story has become the subject of heated debate, as Republicans try to shift attention away from Foley's misconduct and the slow reaction of House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert's office to what they call a political hit just ahead of the midterm elections.

"Are we saying that a 15-year-old child would've sat on e-mails that were XXX-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.," Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.) said on "Fox News Sunday" last weekend. On the same day, Rep. Rahm Emanuel (Ill.), chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said he "never saw" the e-mails. "What you guys want to do is take your dirty laundry and throw it over the fence and try to blame other people," he said.

But new information suggests that the story of the release of Foley's communications with male ex-pages is more complicated than either side asserts.

The most sexually explicit material -- the instant messages that forced Foley's abrupt resignation on Sept. 29 and turned his actions into a full-fledged scandal -- appears to be disconnected from politics. The two former pages who revealed the correspondence to ABC News and The Washington Post, however, may never have come forward had Democratic operatives not divulged the five more benign e-mails that Foley had sent to a Louisiana boy.

'Over-Friendly' E-Mails

The communications that would eventually trigger the scandal were written by Foley in 2004. Foley's e-mails asked a former page from Louisiana for a picture and told him he had just finished a long bike ride and was going to the gym.

Those 2004 e-mails -- dubbed "over-friendly" by House Republican leaders -- originally leaked out of the office of Rep. Rodney Alexander (La.), a Republican. But, Republicans say, they still may have come from a Democrat on his staff. Alexander changed parties in 2004.

The timing of the e-mails' release appears to be more of a coincidence than an "October surprise," designed to affect the outcome of the elections. It took more than a year for the e-mails to be published because one publication after another decided not to print them.

The one media outlet that did, ABC News, took them public in late September only because the lead reporter, Brian Ross, had put the story on hold for more than a month as he pursued stories commemorating the anniversaries of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and Hurricane Katrina.

"There was never a plan to undermine the GOP or to destroy Hastert personally, as the speaker has vaingloriously suggested," Ken Silverstein, Washington editor for Harper's, said on the magazine's Web site yesterday. "I know this with absolute certainty because Harper's was offered the story almost five months ago."

Silverstein said his source was a "Democratic operative," the same source that had provided the e-mail exchanges to the St. Petersburg Times in November 2005. Both the magazine and the paper declined to publish a story. But the source "was not working in concert with the national Democratic Party," Silverstein added. "This person was genuinely disgusted by Foley's behavior, amazed that other publications had declined to publish stories about the emails, and concerned that Foley might still be seeking contact with pages."

A second source emerged, however, just last month, peddling the e-mails to several other publications, including The Post. And Ross of ABC News has stressed that his initial source was a Republican.

More Explicit Messages

The instant messages between Foley and two former pages were much more sexually charged. Once ABC News obtained them and confronted the Florida Republican with the documents, Foley immediately resigned.

Two of the primary sources who delivered the instant messages came forward this week to clarify their motives. Both spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear that exposure would leave them open to harassment, especially from bloggers.

One of ABC News's sources, a former page, said he went public with his knowledge of the instant messages on Sept. 29 only after the network, the day before, published the questionable e-mails that Foley had sent to the Louisiana boy. The former page and current college student stressed that he is a "staunch Republican" who "wouldn't vote for a Democrat ever." He also said that he is not calling for the resignation of Hastert or any other Republican leader.

"I in no way knew or intended to have all the brouhaha about what the GOP leadership knew and when they knew it," he said in a detailed e-mail to The Post. "Truthfully, I am very troubled about what it seems has gone on behind the scenes, but that in no way affects my wish to have a continued GOP control of Congress. There are bad apples everywhere."

The Post subsequently received the instant messages from a Democratic college student who had served as a page with the two teenagers who had corresponded with Foley and had shared their instant messages.

Unlike the ABC News source, The Post's source conceded that he would like to see the Democrats seize control of the House in November, but when approached by a Post reporter about the instant messages, he was reluctant to provide them. Days later, he did so.

The two sources said they had conferred about the instant messages, which they had known about for months.

The Republican former page said he had decided it was up to the victims to come forward with them, but once ABC News published the e-mails, "I knew everything I had already known about Foley was finally going to come out. His attraction to young men. His sexual conversations with them, etc."

'Interests of Kids'

"I decided that it was in the best interests of kids in general, pages and my friends specifically that Foley be dealt with quickly and swiftly so that he couldn't hurt anyone else," the Republican student wrote in his e-mail. "We've seen how long the Justice department and every other government bureaucracy can take to deal with criminal issues and abuse. I knew the media would be the fastest way to get Foley the justice he deserved."

As for The Post's source, Foley's initial response to the disclosure of the e-mails finally persuaded him to share his information, he said.

"When the first e-mails came out, Foley's campaign came out saying it was all a well-timed Democratic smear. Those rumors were unfounded, and I knew that to be untrue," the Democratic former page said. Before the ABC News report, "we were reluctant to take on Congress as young politicos ourselves, but when first blows were made, there was no harm in coming forward," he added.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company