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Former Republican Congressman Mark Foley of Florida reportedly checked into a rehab clinic today for treatment of alcohol abuse. Foley resigned from the House on Friday after being confronted with sexually explicit computer messages he sent to a former Congressional page.
The shockwaves from that resignation are still reverberating in Washington and in Congressional campaigns. House Speaker Dennis Hastert met behind closed doors today with the director of the Congressional Page Program, while the White House tried to distance itself from the scandal.
NPR's Brian Naylor reports.
BRIAN NAYLOR: Hastert met at midday in his Capitol office with John Shimkus, the Illinois Republican who chairs the three member House Page Board. Afterwards Hastert read a statement to reporters calling the instant messages Foley wrote to a former page, quote, “vile and repulsive,” but emphasizing that he had never before seen them.
Representative DENNIS HASTERT (Republican, Illinois): Anyone who had knowledge of these instant messages should have turned them over to authorities immediately so that kids could be protected. I repeat again, the Republican leaders of the House did not have them. We have all said so and on the record.
NAYLOR: The instant messages were more graphic than the emails Foley sent to a 16-year-old former male page in the summer of 2005. Hastert's staff was informed of those emails 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 was deceived.
Representative HASTERT: Congressman Foley duped a lot of people. 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's served in this House and he deceived me, too.
NAYLOR: Hastert said he had ordered a 1-800 hotline to be set up so that any other pages or their families could report improper contacts. Shimkus said steps were being taken to increase the security around the page program
Representative JOHN SHIMKUS (Republican, Illinois): As a father of three boys, I am personally mindful every day of just how difficult it is to protect our children, especially in the world of Internet and text messaging. I am determined to do everything that we can to make sure that this kind of incident will never happen again.
NAYLOR: 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 any member of Congress who was aware of the sexual emails 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 emails in TV interviews this morning, said the Bush administration was horrified.
Mr. TONY SNOW (Press Secretary, White House): 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. 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.
NAYLOR: When asked if that were the president's attitudes, Snow said yes, absolutely.
Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez said the Justice Department was just beginning a preliminary inquiry into whether Foley broke any federal laws in his emails. A similar investigation is underway by law enforcement officials in Florida. Meanwhile on Capitol Hill, the locks to Foley's Congressional office doors have been changed and Foley's nameplate has been removed from the wall.
Brian Naylor, NPR News, the Capitol.