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  Hastert Stands by Handling of Foley Case

Associated Press | October 3, 2006

House Speaker Dennis Hastert and other GOP leaders are dismissing suggestions that they should have done more to investigate an e-mail from Rep. Mark Foley to a former teenage page that had raised a "red flag" with the boy's parents and his congressional sponsor.

Hastert rejected a call by a leading conservative newspaper that he resign, a spokesman said Tuesday.

"The speaker has and will lead the Republican conference to another majority in the 110th Congress," said Hastert spokesman Ron Bonjean.

Hastert said his top aides and Rep. John Shimkus, a fellow Illinois Republican overseeing the page program, acted appropriately by trying to resolve the matter as an internal GOP problem rather than mounting a more formal investigation that would have involved Democrats.

With their party having been left out of that discussion, Democrats criticized Hastert and other Republicans, referring at times to the GOP handling of the affair as a cover-up intended to protect their congressional power. The scandal, breaking just five weeks before the November elections, put Republicans on the defensive on an unexpected front.

The Washington Times, one of the most reliably conservative voices in the nation's capital, called for Hastert, R-Ill., to "resign his speakership at once" for not doing enough to investigate questions about Foley's e-mails.

"Either he was grossly negligent for not taking the red flags fully into account and ordering a swift investigation, for not even remembering the order of events leading up to last week's revelations, or he deliberately looked the other way in hopes that a brewing scandal would simply blow away," The Times' editors wrote in Tuesday's editions.

"Mr. Hastert has forfeited the confidence of the public and his party, and he cannot preside over the necessary coming investigation, an investigation that must examine his own inept performance," The Times said.

Bonjean, Hastert's spokesman, said Tuesday that the speaker is "working every day on ensuring the House is a safe, productive environment for members, staff and all those who are employed by the institution."

Meeting with reporters Monday, Hastert said his aides and Rep. Rodney Alexander, R-La., heeded the wishes of the parents of the former House page, who wanted such questionable e-mails to stop but didn't want the matter pursued. Shimkus and the House clerk told Foley last fall to cut off all communication with the former page, who lived in Louisiana.

Hastert says neither Shimkus nor his own aides saw the 2005 e-mail, noting that it was far less sexually explicit than the electronic messages that ABC News revealed last week.

"There wasn't much there other than a friendly inquiry," Hastert said of the 2005 message from Foley, R-Fla., described as "sick" by the boy. The message asked for a photograph and mentioned a different teen who was in "great shape."

Hastert said neither he nor other GOP leaders were aware until last Friday of the reportedly far more lurid computer exchanges two years earlier between the Florida Republican and another page. He urged anyone with sexually graphic e-mails that preceded Foley's resignation to contact authorities.

Foley's attorney, David Roth, told CNN on Monday that Foley was "absolutely, positively not a pedophile" and had never had inappropriate sexual contact with a minor.

ABC News reported that its initial report prompted another former page to come forward with a graphic e-mail.

Hastert said he does not recall being told last spring by Rep. Tom Reynolds, the House GOP campaign chairman, about the questionable e-mail, but he doesn't dispute Reynolds' account.

"I don't think I went wrong at all," Reynolds said at a Monday evening news conference in his western New York district, surrounding himself with about 30 children and about as many parents. "I don't know what else I could have done."

Shimkus, appearing with Hastert, said new measures would be implemented to keep pages safe, including a toll-free hotline for pages, former pages and families to report any incidents confidentially.

ABC News reported instant messages between Foley and a San Diego teenager who suggested he was uncomfortable in an exchange discussing dinner plans for when the boy was to come to Washington.

"and then what happens," Foley messaged at one point.

"I have the feeling that you are fishing here ... im not sure what I would be comfortable with ... well see," the teen replied.

Democrats contended that the matter should have been brought to the attention of the page board or the House Ethics Committee.

The FBI has begun an inquiry into Foley's computer contact with pages, and Hastert wrote a letter to Florida Gov. Jeb Bush asking for an investigation into whether state laws were broken.

The St. Petersburg Times and The Miami Herald, which had been given copies of the e-mail with the Louisiana boy last year, defended their decisions not to run stories.

"Given the potentially devastating impact that a false suggestion of pedophilia could have on anyone, not to mention a congressman known to be gay, and lacking any corroborating information, we chose not to do a story," said Tom Fiedler, executive editor of the Herald.


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