FBI Faulted for Inaction in Foley Scandal

By Dan Eggen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 23, 2007

The FBI should have acted last summer to protect underage congressional pages after it was given "troubling" electronic messages sent by then-Rep. Mark Foley (R-Fla.), according to a report released yesterday.

The review by Justice Department Inspector General Glenn A. Fine also found that FBI and Justice officials misled the news media last fall when they asserted that an activist group that first provided the FBI with Foley's messages had not been cooperative and had withheld vital information from investigators.

In fact, Fine's report found that the group -- Citizens for Ethics and Responsibility in Washington, or CREW -- had notified the FBI within days of obtaining the electronic communications in July. But the FBI never asked for additional information from the group and never sought to interview the former page in Louisiana who received the messages from Foley, the report said.

The 31-page report provides additional evidence that government and legislative officials took little action in response to growing complaints about Foley's conduct with underage male pages. It also shows how officials frequently attempted to minimize their roles in the affair after the communications were publicized and Foley resigned.

"We believe that the e-mails provided enough troubling indications on their face, particularly given the position of trust and authority that Foley held with respect to House pages, that a better practice for the FBI would have been to take at least some follow-up steps," the report concluded. It added later: "[E]ven if the FBI did not believe any interviews were warranted based upon the e-mails alone, we believe the FBI should have considered taking some steps to ensure that any minors in the Congressional page program were not at risk of predatory behavior by Foley."

Follow-up steps could have included interviewing the male page who received the electronic messages or notifying House leaders about the communications, the report said.

Foley resigned from the House in September after ABC News reported on the same communications given to the FBI, in which Foley praises the physical attributes of one page and asks another for his picture. The ensuing scandal was widely seen as a significant factor in the defeat of some Republicans in the November elections.

Both the FBI and the state of Florida have opened criminal investigations of Foley. In December, the House ethics committee concluded that House leaders and staff members knew for months or even years about Foley's inappropriate conduct, but the panel declined to recommend any disciplinary action.

The FBI's criminal probe appears to be ongoing. One 22-year-old former page who allegedly received explicit messages from Foley said in an interview yesterday that the FBI had most recently questioned him the week before Christmas. He said the agent was focused on determining his age at the time of the electronic exchanges with Foley and confirming other details.

Shortly after the Foley scandal broke, CREW publicly disclosed that it had provided the FBI with suspicious messages from Foley in July and criticized the bureau for not moving more aggressively in the case.

Several officials at the FBI and Justice Department -- all of whom requested anonymity at the time -- responded by telling reporters that the messages supplied by CREW had been "heavily redacted" and that the group had refused to provide further information.

Fine's review found, however, that the only thing removed from the messages was the identity of the person to whom the communications had been forwarded, and that the "redactions in the e-mail did not factor into the FBI's decision to decline to investigate the matter." Fine's office also found that a chronology prepared by the FBI's Washington Field Office contained inaccuracies that were likely repeated to the press.

CREW's executive director, Melanie Sloan, said in a statement that "not only did the FBI fail to investigate the possible sexual abuse of minors by a sitting member of Congress, the bureau then tried to cover up its shocking inaction by blaming CREW."

Justice Department spokesman Brian Roehrkasse referred questions about the report to the FBI. The FBI, in a prepared statement, attributed the erroneous statements about CREW to "inaccurate information" that led to "misunderstandings on the part of FBI and DOJ spokespersons."

The supervisory special agent who looked into the Foley messages said there was no evidence a crime had occurred and that the messages were "not the job of the FBI" but "a parental job."

"We are not the ethics police," the unidentified agent said later in the report.

One point of disagreement not answered in the report is whether Sloan was asked by an FBI agent to identify the person who provided the group with the messages. The FBI agent said she "may have" asked Sloan that question, but that she was not sure; Sloan has said since October that she was asked only whether the author of the communications was Foley.

Staff writer Elizabeth Williamson contributed to this report.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company