Hastert Defends Leadership over Foley Allegations

Former Congressman Mark Foley (R-FL) reportedly checked into an alcohol-abuse rehab clinic Monday. He resigned from the House of Representatives on Friday after being confronted with sexually explicit computer messages that he sent to a former Congressional page.

Speaker Dennis Hastert met behind closed doors Monday with John Shimkus, the Illinois Republican who chairs the three-member House page board. Afterward, Hastert read a statement to reporters, calling the instant messages Foley wrote to a former page "vile and repulsive," but emphasizing that he had never before seen them.

"Anyone who had knowledge of these instant messages should have turned them over to authorities immediately so that kids could be protected," Hastert said. "I repeat again: The Republican leaders of the House did not have them."

The instant messages were more graphic than e-mails that Foley had sent to a 16-year-old former male page in the summer of 2005. Hastert's staff was informed of those e-mails along with the rest of the House republican leadership team. At the time, Shimkus was drafted to order Foley to end all contact with the former page, which GOP leaders now say Foley assured them he had. Hastert said he had been deceived.

"Congressman Foley duped a lot of people," Hastert said. "He lied to Mr. Shimkus and he deceived his in-state paper when they each questioned him. He deceived the good men and women in organizations around the country with whom he worked to strengthen our child-predator law. I have known him for all the years he served in this House, and he deceived me, too."

Hastert said he had ordered a hotline to be set up so that any other pages or their families could report improper conduct. Shimkus said that steps were being taken to increase the security around the page program.

Neither Hastert nor Shimkus would answer reporters' questions about the matter. But democratic critics of GOP leaders handling of the issue have been joined by a number of prominent conservatives, including radio talk-show host Michael Reagan. The son of former president Ronald Reagan said that any member of Congress who was aware of the sexual e-mails and protected the congressman should resign effective immediately.

The White House tried to keep its distance from the matter. Spokesman Tony Snow, who initially downplayed what he called "naughty e-mails" in TV interviews, said this morning that the Bush administration is horrified.

"The American people need confidence that this sort of thing is not tolerated, and that affirmative steps will be taken to make sure it doesn't happen again," Snow said. "That's a Capitol Hill matter right now. For those of us working in the White House, we're horrified when we hear stories like this."

When asked if that was the president's attitude, Snow said, "Yes, absolutely."

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said the Justice Department was just beginning a preliminary inquiry into whether Foley broke federal laws with his e-mails. A similar investigation is under way by law enforcement officials in Florida.

On Capitol Hill, the locks to Foley's congressional office doors have been changed, and Foley's name plate has been removed from the wall.

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