By Amy Goldstein and Elizabeth Williamson
Washington Post Staff Writers
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."
Besides, he said, "it was embarrassing."Overly Friendly
One evening early in the spring of 2000, a half-dozen pages -- three girls and three boys -- went to supper at Hawk 'n' Dove, a Capitol Hill pub. One boy had mentioned to Foley that they would be there, but no one expected that a congressman would show up.
Between House votes that night, Foley walked in. "It was the craziest thing. He ate wings off everybody's plate," recalled Rebecca Hoffman, a Democratic page who was there. He shot billiards with them, another page recalled.
"We were just absolutely shocked," said Hoffman, now 23. "We went back and told all our friends, 'You won't believe what happened.' "
Though Foley's willingness to socialize with pages stood out, their world granted them rare proximity to political power.
The page program is as old as the republic. Today, pages are all high school juniors and must be at least 16, and they typically work on Capitol Hill and take classes for an entire school year. They are the only people other than House members allowed entree to certain corridors, rooms and chambers in the Capitol, including the floor of the House.
Pages are taught to speak to a member only when spoken to. But those with plum assignments, in the Republican and Democratic cloakrooms or on the floor itself, find opportunities to talk with a few members who are particularly receptive.
"There's something that really feels good about getting to hang out with people who are powerful and well known," said Michael Buck, who was a Republican-sponsored page from Maryland's Eastern Shore in 1999-2000 and now is a teacher in the Mississippi Delta.
"You have your select group of people you become certain friends with," said Ray Lahoud, a law student who was a page in 1999-2000, referring to members of Congress. "They were sort of your mentors. They replaced your parents. . . . Mark Foley was one of those people who was always . . . talking to us. He knew us all by name."
Jacob Kosoff, a cloakroom page in 1997-98, remembers looking out a Capitol doorway one warm spring day and noticing Foley arriving on his bicycle below. He sprinted down a marble staircase, zipped through a metal detector and arrived on the House floor in time to catch the congressman. "Oh wow, you cycle to votes. That's cool," Kosoff recalls telling him.
Foley liked the attention. "He could not only tell you every time he was in a picture in the New York Times, but where he was in the photo," said one man who worked with him in Congress. "He thrived on the adoration of the people in the room. And here was a group of people who gave it unhesitatingly."
"I remember him riding by in his Bimmer and talking about all the cars he got and going down to Florida to take out his yacht," said Kristopher Hart, a page in 1999-2000 who went on to George Washington University and now runs a day spa near the campus. "He was like a little bit of a showman, but he was a great guy."
Shortly before the end of his page year, Hart said, he somehow obtained the online name Foley used for instant messages, MAF54. "We talked on IM just a couple of times. . . . It would be pretty cool to write and say, 'Are you in Congress or are you in Florida?' " They wrote sporadically through Hart's freshman year of college. "He never crossed the line."
At times, Foley seemed to speak suggestively to boys before they left the program. A female former page remembers becoming uneasy one day in 2000 as she watched him talk "a little too much" on the House floor to a boy she knew. Right afterward, she asked what Foley had said. The boy, she recalled, told her Foley had admired the page's "very big hands" and boasted about his "glorious" home in Florida. The boy added: "Eighteen. Eighteen's that magic number." The girl was appalled at what seemed to her to be a come-on that the boy did not fully understand.
After their graduation a few months later, she said, another male page told her that he and Foley were exchanging e-mails and that the congressman had asked him to mail a picture of himself to Foley's Washington house.
The Republican page from 2002, who exchanged instant messages with Foley for two months, said the first one arrived just before the start of his senior year of high school. He found the message when he logged on to his family's computer after dinner one night. At first, he assumed it was a prank by another page pretending to be the congressman. "It was a friendly conversation that got strange," said the young man, now 21. In one, Foley asked whether his roommates had worn "no boxers or briefs to bed."
The young man said he did not immediately realize that the messages might be a solicitation. Catholic, conservative and from a small town, the former page said he had never known anyone who was gay. By early fall, Foley offered to write a college recommendation. By then, the young man said, "I just wanted the association with him not to be there."
Foley never asked to meet him, he said. "I think in my case, it was him just fantasizing," he said.
The self-described political junkie who received Foley's message about oral sex said his parents were standing next to him at graduation in 2002 when the congressman offered his address. Foley's online overtures "put the ball always in the page's court," he said. "I would have had to make the move."
Although he was only 17 at the time, he said, "if we actually would have met in person, I think he would have tried something. There's no doubt in my mind."Selective Vigilance
The dormitory where the pages live, for the past few years a renovated convent three blocks southeast of the Capitol, has bulletproof glass in the entryway, a metal detector and two armed Capitol Police officers around the clock. Pages must sign out with at least one other page every time they leave the building.
The stringent rules are the legacy of a sex scandal in 1983, when two male members of Congress were censured for having sexual relations with pages, a girl and a boy, in 1980 and 1973.
The weekend new pages arrive, they gather Sunday afternoon on the House floor to learn their duties and the rules. "This is a different world of important adults, important people making important decisions," Donnald K. Anderson, a former House clerk and an emeritus member of the Page Board, said he always tells the teenagers that day. "If something or somebody is bothering you, don't suffer in silence."
There is to be no smoking, no drinking or drugs, no sex. Students who are one minute late on their lights-out curfew get demerits that lead to being grounded.
Most students follow the rules. Pages who violate any of the major rules are ordered to leave.
In 2001-02, nearly a dozen pages were sent home, including four who had written a song with homophobic lyrics that mocked a gay staff member of the page dormitory.
"You were on the next plane home," said Matthew J. Frattali, who worked as a tutor in the page school for two years until he, too, was ordered to leave for having falsely recorded that a group of students was in study hall when he actually had let them go out to celebrate a birthday.
However, Frattali and former pages said the rules were looser when members of Congress were involved.
And the program's staff, even if they had known of a problem involving Foley or any other member, could not have simply invoked their zero-tolerance policy.
"One is sort of a page transgression," Frattali said. "One is a member transgression. You can't put a member on a plane and send him home."
Since the 1983 page scandal, the program has put an emphasis on discouraging interaction between female pages and male lawmakers and staff, without similar sensitivities about male lawmakers and male pages.
One female page remembers that she was chastised several years ago -- and a Republican House leadership aide was threatened with firing -- after she met with the aide after work one day in his office, with the door open, to talk about the Bible.
It struck her as unfair. She was one of many girls who watched enviously as Foley surrounded himself with male pages on the House floor.
On June 10, 2000, the last night in Washington for the page class that year, Foley parked his BMW at the edge of the park across from the old page dorm, since torn down.
A few pages noticed him, Michael Buck remembers, and ran to see him. "He was outside in his convertible, hanging out and telling us goodbye."
Research editor Alice Crites, staff researcher Madonna Lebling and staff writer James V. Grimaldi contributed to this report.