Correction to This Article
An earlier version of this Dec. 9 article on a House ethics committee report incorrectly stated that an aide to Rep. Jim Kolbe told the committee that Kolbe knew of the sexually explicit nature of an instant message sent by former representative Mark Foley to a former page. The article should have said that the former page revealed the explicit nature of the message to the ethics committee. Kolbe told the committee the former page either called him or his assistant, and that he did not see the Foley message and was unaware it was explicit. Also, a caption accompanying a photograph with the article reversed the order of the two men pictured. Ethics committee Chairman Doc Hastings (R-Wash.) was at left, and ranking committee Democrat Howard L. Berman (Calif.) was at right.

Committee Says GOP Left Foley Unchecked

By Jonathan Weisman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, December 10, 2006; 1:44 PM

The House ethics committee concluded yesterday that House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) and his top staff probably knew for months, if not years, of then-Rep. Mark Foley's inappropriate contact with former House pages but did nothing to protect the teenagers.

Top GOP House leaders also "failed to exercise appropriate diligence" in the matter, the committee's report found, and tried "to remain willfully ignorant of the potential consequences of Foley's conduct." The ensuing scandal contributed to the Republicans' losses in the midterm elections. The report speculated that some officials were reluctant to act too aggressively for fear of exposing Foley's homosexuality or for political reasons.

But the ethics panel, officially known as the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, decided against taking any action against the leaders, aides or House officials involved in the saga, declining even to describe their actions as bringing ill repute on the House.

"The requirement that Members and staff act at all times in a manner that reflects creditably on the House does not mean that every error in judgment or failure to exercise appropriate oversight and sufficient diligence establishes a violation" of House rules, the long-awaited report concluded.

The committee's bipartisan probe was launched two months ago after reports by ABC News that Foley, a Florida Republican, had sent sexually explicit online messages to male former House pages. The 89-page report is sharply critical of Hastert and his chief of staff, Scott Palmer, and chief counsel, Ted Van Der Meid.

The report also chides House Majority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) for not showing sufficient curiosity in the matter, and retiring Rep. Jim Kolbe (R-Ariz.) is criticized for failing to divulge Foley's actions, both years before they were exposed and after they came to light.

Democratic aides are also criticized, for shopping around inappropriate Foley e-mails to media outlets as far back as November 2005, apparently for political gain.

To critics of Congress, the report's release in the final hours of the session is a fitting end to a Congress tainted by scandal, indictments and resignations. Next month, Hastert will take a seat in a new, Democratic-controlled House as a back-bench member of the minority.

"It is unfathomable that the ethics committee has held no member or staff member individually accountable for the manner in which the Foley scandal was handled in the House," said Fred Wertheimer, president of Democracy 21, a watchdog group.

Two former pages whose revelations added to the scandal expressed disappointment with the committee's decision not to discipline those who knew about Foley's behavior. One of the pages, involved in providing the first questionable e-mails to the media, said, "I'm surprised they aren't doing anything, but it's not shocking, given the lack of real accountability we've seen in Congress in general."

The other former page, whom Foley propositioned after the boy had left the page program, said, "My fear is that by not holding anyone accountable it sets a precedent that political fallout is more important than young people's safety."

Committee members of both parties defended their conclusions. "This is not the jerry-rigged result of a series of compromises," said Rep. Howard L. Berman (Calif.), the committee's ranking Democrat.

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