Foley Fallout Tightens Race for N.Y. Congressman

Rep. Tom Reynolds (R-NY) was among the first to know about the e-mails between former Rep. Mark Foley (R-FL) and several pages. Exactly how much he knew about the e-mails is raising concern among his constituents, and further tightening an already close election at home.

Copyright © 2006 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

DEBORAH AMOS, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Deborah Amos in for Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep. Good morning.

More days go by and we keep learning more about Mark Foley. He's the congressman who resigned last week after being confronted with sexually explicit messages that he'd sent to teenage congressional pages.

Yesterday, his attorney said Foley's behavior was affected by alcoholism and that Foley had been molested as a child. He also announced that Foley is gay.

Republican lawmakers returned home to campaign this week, and they're facing tough questions about how the House leadership handled this case, none more so than Congressman Tom Reynolds of New York. Reynolds is in charge of organizing the House Republicans reelection effort. When he learned about e-mails between Foley and a page last spring, Reynolds told Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert about it. But his constituents are asking, should he have done more?

NPR's Robert Smith reports from Buffalo.

ROBERT SMITH: Since he's been back in his suburban Buffalo district, Congressman Reynolds has made sure his public events include plenty of children.

(Soundbite of crowd noise)

SMITH: Yesterday it was a financial literacy event at Amherst Central High School, where Reynolds lectured 16 and 17-year-olds on the importance of saving money.

Representative TOM REYNOLDS (Republican, New York): As you get older, the responsibility of managing your finances will become even more important.

SMITH: Reporters who wanted to grill the representative on the sordid topic of inappropriate e-mails had to wait until the teachers shooed the kids out of the room. Suddenly the event turned from G-rated to NC-17.

Rep. REYNOLDS: It's astounding to me as a parent and a grandparent that anyone would insinuate that I would seek to cover up inappropriate conduct of an adult and a child.

SMITH: Reynolds went over the timeline again and again. He said that he'd heard about, but didn't read, questionable e-mails from Foley to a former page. He said he informed Speaker Hastert, and he said that was the end of his responsibility.

Rep. REYNOLDS: If you see an incident in the workplace, whether it be sexual harassment or some other, you take it to your supervisor.

SMITH: But it hasn't been that simple for Reynolds to disassociate himself from former Representative Foley. As the head of the National Republican Congressional Committee, Reynolds accepted a $100,000 donation from Foley. What's more, Reynolds' Chief of Staff, Kirk Fordham, used to work with Foley. And in recent days Fordham helped Foley with damage control, a service that Reynolds says he knew nothing about.

Rep. REYNOLDS: I didn't give him permission to have any conversations he's had at any time with Mark Foley, either as his friend or a former employer.

SMITH: If you think this sounds confusing, you're not alone. In this suburban and rural district outside of Buffalo, the constituents I talked to kept raising the same questions.

Mr. JOHN DISTEFANO(ph) (Resident, Buffalo): How much did he know, and how much of an obligation did he have to do something about it?

SMITH: John DiStefano is a former high school principal and a Republican.

Mr. DISTEFANO: It appears as though he didn't do enough. I think he's in big trouble. And if he was involved in a cover up, he deserves to be in trouble.

SMITH: Until last week this was not supposed to be a difficult reelection year for Reynolds. The district was carefully drawn to give him a clear Republican majority. After November, Reynolds was expected to move up in the Republican leadership in Washington.

Political science Professor James Campbell of the University at Buffalo says Reynolds still has the edge in the race if he can navigate this rough patch.

Professor JAMES CAMPBELL (Political Science, SUNY Buffalo): It's going to take a while I think for Reynolds to get the full explanation out to voters in a way that they understand what he did and why he did it. And I think that's what he has to do over the next week.

SMITH: So far, Reynolds' opponent, Democrat Jack Davis, has been cautious about campaigning on the scandal issue. Yesterday, Davis was answering questions from a roomful of retired union workers in Lockport, New York, and the Foley issue never came up.

John Bioujac(ph), a former UAW member, said he's already sick of hearing about the sex scandal.

Mr. JOHN BIOUJAC (Former UAW member): I really haven't heard too many facts yet, you know, just a lot of accusations, innuendoes and things like that. You know, Tom Reynolds knew this, he knew that. Well, I don't know. Did he? But right now it is not an issue with me, okay? The issue is jobs and taxes and outsourcing and things like that. Those are my issues.

SMITH: Davis, who made a fortune in manufacturing, was happy to oblige, speaking at length on the perils of free trade. But when asked after the event, he conceded that Reynolds' woes are making his job easier.

Mr. JACK DAVIS (Congressional Candidate, New York): I'd rather beat Reynolds without this issue. I think I would go to Washington stronger that way. But I may not make it, so it's good he's having these problems.

SMITH: Beleaguered as he may be now, Reynolds won't go down easily. He still has gobs of money, plus he still has friends in very high places. Later today, first lady Laura Bush will appear at a campaign fundraiser for Reynolds. And for a few hours at least, that should be enough to change the subject.

Robert Smith, NPR News, Buffalo.

AMOS: You can follow key events in the evolving scandal surrounding Mark Foley at our Web site, npr.org.

Copyright © 2006 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Timeline: The Fall of Rep. Mark Foley

Mark Foley and John Walsh

Former Rep. Mark Foley was first elected to the House of Representatives in 1994. In this May 2005 file photo, Foley, right, stands behind John Walsh, host of TV's America's Most Wanted, at a press conference announcing plans to overhaul sex-offender laws. Getty hide caption

itoggle caption Getty

As the controversy surrounding former Rep. Mark Foley (R-FL) unfolds, attention has turned to who knew what, and when. The Republican leadership says it was informed last fall that Foley had sent "over friendly" e-mails to a former page. But GOP leaders insist they did not learn of sexually explicit instant messages to other former pages until last Friday. Here, a look at key dates in the developing scandal:

1997: Tyson Vivyan, a congressional page at the time, receives sexually suggestive computer messages from an anonymous sender who turns out to be Foley, according to statements by Vivyan.

2001: A Republican staff member tells congressional pages to "watch out" for Foley, according to ABC News.

2003: Foley reportedly writes sexually explicit instant messages to a young man who formerly served as a House page. In May, Foley faces questions about his sexual orientation as he prepares to run for a Senate seat in Florida. He later drops out of the race.

Summer 2005: Foley exchanges e-mails with a former page from Louisiana. The e-mails ask about the page's age (then 16) and his birthday and request a picture.

Fall 2005: The former page contacts the office of his sponsor, Rep. Rodney Alexander (R-LA), about the e-mails. Describing the e-mails, the boy writes, "Maybe it is just me being paranoid, but seriously. This freaked me out."

Alexander's chief of staff informs the office of House Speaker Dennis Hastert's office about the e-mail exchange, but declines to show the message to Hastert's staff and to the clerk of the House, Jeff Trandahl, who administers the page program.

Alexander's chief of staff describes the e-mails as being "over friendly" but not of a sexual nature. The chief of staff says that the family simply wants the contact to stop. Hastert said last week he was not aware of "a different set of communications which were sexually explicit ... which Mr. Foley reportedly sent another former page or pages."

Trandahl and Rep. John Shimkus (R-IL), chairman of the House Page Board, meet with Foley, who assures them he was only acting as a mentor to the boy. Shimkus orders Foley to cease contact with the boy. Foley agrees.

November 2005: The 16-year-old Louisiana boy gives copies of Foley's e-mails to the St. Petersburg Times, describing them as "very inappropriate." The paper assigns two reporters to investigate. The paper says it decided not to write a story because of the seriousness of what would be implied, and because the boy and the family would not go on the record.

The Miami Herald says it, too, received a copy of the e-mails, but it decided not to go public because the messages were not sexually explicit and were subject to interpretation.

Spring 2006: Alexander mentions the Foley issue to Rep. Tom Reynolds (R-NY), chairman of the House Republican Campaign Committee. Reynolds says he raised the issue at a meeting with Hastert. Hastert says he does not explicitly recall this conversation, but he does not dispute Reynolds' recollection that he reported on the problem and its resolution.

Alexander's office also tells the office of House Majority Leader Rep. John Boehner (R-OH) about the e-mails. Boehner has given conflicting statements, but on Tuesday, he told an Ohio radio station that he discussed the matter with Hastert, who told him it had been resolved.

July 2006: The FBI receives some Foley-related e-mail correspondence in July, but concludes that no federal law had been violated, according to a law enforcement official who spoke to the Associated Press on condition of anonymity because of the ongoing investigation. The FBI official would not detail how many e-mails the FBI initially received, or whether they came from multiple sources.

A group called Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington now says that it forwarded the messages to the FBI on July 21, requesting an investigation. The group did not disclose how it obtained the messages.

Sept. 28, 2006: ABC News reports on Foley's e-mail exchange with the Louisiana teenager. Foley's Democratic challenger, Tim Mahoney, calls for an investigation.

Sept. 29, 2006: Revelations emerge of sexually explicit instant messages Foley sent in 2003 to former pages. Foley resigns. The House votes to refer the matter to the ethics committee.

Sept. 30, 2006: Hastert says he is setting up a hot line for current and former pages and their families to report problems about the page program.

Oct. 1, 2006: Hastert writes a letter to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales asking for an investigation of Foley's conduct. Hastert writes a similar letter to Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. The FBI reopens its preliminary investigation.

Oct. 2: Foley's attorney says the former congressman is battling alcoholism and has checked into a rehabilitation facility.

Oct. 4: Kirk Fordham, a former congressional aide, says that he informed Hastert's office about complaints that pages had made regarding Foley's "inappropriate behavior" before 2004. He says the complaints did not suggest Foley had been overtly sexual with pages, merely "overly friendly." Hastert's office denies receiving such information. Fordham worked for Foley until January 2004; on Oct. 4, he resigned as chief of staff for Rep. Reynolds.

Oct. 5: The House ethics committee opens an investigation into the Foley scandal. Hastert tells reporters that he did not know about the sexually explicit messages sent by Foley until last week, but he accepts responsibility for the matter. But Hastert insists he will stay on as leader of House Republicans.

Meanwhile, another former page, Tyson Vivyan of Atlanta, 26, says that he received sexually suggestive computer messages in 1997, years before the communications exposed last week, from an anonymous sender who turned out to be Foley.

Sources: Compiled from wire, NPR staff and media reports. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.