By LISA HOFFMAN
As political ads capitalizing on the Mark Foley sex scandal prepared Friday to air across the country, the gears of a two-pronged federal investigation into the X-rated conversations the former lawmaker held with congressional pages started to turn.
But anyone looking for fast results from the FBI and House ethics committee probes of the circumstances surrounding contacts between the former House GOP lawmaker and male teenagers will be disappointed.
All signs Friday showed that both investigations are proceeding methodically, with the focus on conducting interviews and assembling documents that, in turn, will be analyzed to answer the questions: Did Foley commit a crime by sending sexually explicit online messages to the youths? Did the now-disgraced Florida politician have in-person sex with them? Did House GOP leaders engage in a cover-up, break ethical rules or otherwise shirk their duties?
"We are working on a preliminary review," said Heather Smith, a spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, which is assisting the FBI in gathering information in the case.
That is the case, as well, for the FBI, which is contacting former pages who have been linked to Foley, according to news reports. Famed Oklahoma defense attorney Stephen Jones told CNN Friday that his client, a former page from California, may meet with the FBI next week.
On Capitol Hill, a deliberate pace is also being followed. A day after it voted to issue at least 44 subpoenas for documents and interviews of Capitol Hill personnel, the House ethics committee also had no developments to report.
Part of the reason for the measured approach is the bitter taste that remains on the Hill after a May 20 search of another congressman’s office by the FBI.
Then, agents gave no notice to House leaders when they served a warrant late on a Saturday night to search the House office of Rep. William Jefferson, D-La., under federal investigation for accepting bribes.
House Speaker Dennis Hastert and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi _ political adversaries of the most acid sort on most days _ later stood shoulder-to-shoulder to denounce the raid as a violation of the constitutional separation of legislative and executive branch powers.
If Foley’s personal office in the Cannon House Office Building has been searched, no one is saying so. House administrative officials have said his office has been sealed since his resignation Sept. 29.
Meanwhile, the political fallout from the seamy scandal spread past Washington.
In Ohio, where seven-term GOP Rep. Deborah Pryce is in a tough contest, her Democratic opponent, Mary Jo Kilroy, will launch ads Saturday on Christian radio stations that accuse Pryce, a member of the embattled House GOP leadership, with not doing enough to stop Foley’s electronic dalliances with youths from the page program.
In Minnesota, Patty Wetterling, a Democrat contender for an open House seat, is airing hard-edged ads that blast the GOP for "knowingly (ignoring) the welfare of children to protect their own power." Wetterling, whose son disappeared 17 years ago in a suspected abduction and has yet to be found, is slated to give the Democratic response Saturday to President Bush’s weekly radio address.
And in southern Indiana, the Democratic contender for GOP Rep. Mike Sodrel’s seat is depicting a broader taint, attacking Soldrel for refusing to return $77,000 in campaign contributions not from Foley specifically, but from the House leadership "who knew about but did nothing to stop sexual predator Congressman Foley."
(Contact Lisa Hoffman at HoffmanL(at)shns.com)