How Foley Skirted Rules To Pursue Relationships
Sunday, October 22, 2006
They met on the House floor. He was a 16-year-old political junkie, dressed in the drab navy blazer and gray slacks of a congressional page, rushing phone messages to the members he served. Rep. Mark Foley was tanned and charismatic, a successful politician in his mid-40s willing to joke with him between votes.
They talked perhaps a dozen times. Then at his page graduation ceremony that June, in 2002, he was excited when Foley appeared, uninvited, and dictated his personal e-mail address for the boy to jot in his memory book. "I started contacting him right away," the young man recalled. "I knew a congressman that I . . . talked to online. That was pretty cool."
The messages were innocent at first. But after the young man moved home, he recalled, Foley started asking about "my roommates, if I ever saw them naked." Within months, the congressman was dangling a job offer, "because I was a hot boy," he said. Two years later, when he contacted Foley for advice on D.C. hotels, the congressman wrote back: "You could always stay at my place. I'm always here, I'm always lonely, and I'm always up for oral sex."
The experience of the young man, now 22, who agreed to recount his interactions with Foley on the condition of anonymity, was characteristic of the way the six-term House member pursued the online relationships that, once revealed, forced him to resign from Congress late last month. No one interviewed for this article could cite any instance in which Foley had sex with a former page. Foley's lawyer, David Roth, declined to comment for this story.
Interviews with nearly three dozen former pages suggest that the Florida Republican befriended a wide circle of teenagers during their stints as House pages. Then, shortly before they left or soon afterward, he singled out certain boys to write to -- including four newly confirmed by The Washington Post, in addition to former page Jordan Edmund and one other whose illicit online conversations with Foley ended the congressman's career. Some of the correspondence was brief and casual. But over months or years, if a boy seemed willing to go along, some conversations grew more sexual.
The FBI and Florida officials are conducting criminal investigations into Foley's dealings with former pages.
Foley was able to operate unimpeded for years -- forming the friendships with pages that would be the seeds of online relationships later on -- in spite of rigorous supervision of the teenagers in the congressional page program and a "zero-tolerance" policy for pages and adults who broke its rules.
Based on the interviews with pages, who spanned most of Foley's dozen years in the House -- and interviews with parents and former program employees -- the congressman's behavior went unchecked because he operated within accepted norms of the program's culture.
Although many pages regarded Foley as the House's friendliest member, his interactions with boys before they graduated often did not stray far beyond those of several other members of Congress each year who were known by the pages to take a caring interest in this corps of teenagers, most living away from home for the first time.
Foley also operated in an atmosphere in which male pages were able more easily than females to develop mentoring relationships with the male members of Congress, who account for nearly 9 in 10 members of the House.
Most of all, his interest in the boys coincided with the ambitions of many of the teenagers, who craved contact with members in hopes of fostering political careers of their own.
"I didn't want to piss off a member of an institution that I really revered," said a former Republican page from 2002, who said that, shortly after he finished the program, he exchanged a handful of messages with Foley over two months and that they gradually became sexual. He played along, then slowed his responses until Foley took the hint and stopped. He never considered reporting Foley to authorities. "I figured maybe someday I will want to be involved in Congress," he said. "I didn't want to make an enemy."