Washington House Speaker Dennis Hastert on Monday defended his office's handling of questions raised about Rep. Mark Foley last year, saying the parents of a former male page were concerned about an e-mail Foley sent their son but didn't want the matter pursued.
Hastert said neither he nor other GOP leaders were aware until last Friday of far more lurid computer exchanges two years earlier between the Florida Republican and another page.
Hastert, R-Ill., acknowledged that Foley's 2005 e-mail to a Louisiana boy seeking a photograph raised a "red flag" with the Louisiana congressman who sponsored the page, but he said his staff aides and Rep. John Shimkus, another Illinois Republican who chairs a board of House members who oversee the page program, did not know the contents.
Rep. Tom Reynolds, the House GOP campaign chairman, said he told Hastert in the spring of this year about the questionable e-mail. Hastert says he does not recall the conversation but does not dispute Reynolds' account.
Reynolds defended his actions at a news conference Monday night in Buffalo, N.Y., surrounding himself with about 30 children and as many parents. "It's astounding to me as a parent or a grandparent that anyone would insinuate that I would seek to cover up inappropriate conduct between an adult and a child," said Reynolds, who is in a competitive re-election race.
Foley's attorney, David Roth, told CNN on Monday that his client is "absolutely positively not a pedophile" and "has never ever had an inappropriate sexual contact with a minor in his life."
On Capitol Hill, Shimkus appeared with Hastert on Monday and they said new measures would be implemented to keep pages safe, including a toll-free hot line for pages, former pages and their families to confidentially report any incidents.
Democrats protested that those decisions should be made by the bipartisan page board.
"Once again, the House Republican leadership is following the same pattern of unilateral decision-making that caused this problem in the first place," said Rep. Dale Kildee of Michigan, a longtime Democratic member of the board.
Hastert's media offensive came as the burgeoning scandal entered its fourth day, souring the outlook for Republicans in the November elections and raising questions about the judgment of senior House officials who handled the controversy.
Democrats hammered at GOP leaders' handling of the Foley subject as an internal party matter instead of bringing it to the attention of the page board or the House Ethics Committee.
"Republican leaders admitted to knowing about Mr. Foley's abhorrent behavior for six months to a year and failed to protect the children in their trust," said Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. "Republican leaders must be investigated by the Ethics Committee and immediately questioned under oath."
Rehab and replacement
Foley, 52, checked into an alcohol rehabilitation center over the weekend, his attorney said Monday. In a statement, Foley said, "I strongly believe that I'm an alcoholic and have accepted the need for immediate treatment for alcoholism and other behavioral problems."
Florida Republicans on Monday chose a member of the state Legislature, Rep. Joe Negron, to replace Foley as the party's candidate for the state's 16th congressional district, which covers an area north and west of Palm Beach. Foley's name will remain on the ballot in November.
Democratic challenger Tim Mahoney said Monday that his campaign learned about the Foley e-mails through a reporter and wasn't sure what to believe until actually seeing them.
"There was information that obviously had been out and about. It had to be one of the biggest open secrets in Washington, D.C."