Former Rep. Mark Foley was described as a "ticking time bomb" for his sexual come-ons to male pages, but Republican lawmakers and aides for a decade failed to protect the teenagers vulnerable to his advances, the House ethics committee concluded Friday. Despite that finding, the panel said no rules had been broken and no one should be punished.
The committee harshly criticized Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., saying the evidence showed he was told of the problem months before he acknowledged learning of Foley’s questionable e-mails to a former Louisiana page. It rejected Hastert’s contention that he couldn’t recall separate warnings from two House Republican leaders.
Hastert said he was pleased the committee found "there was no violation of any House rules by any member or staff."
He added that no evidence was uncovered that salacious instant messages from Foley — which surfaced after the scandal became public — were known to any House member or employee before that time.
But the committee concluded that Hastert’s chief of staff, Scott Palmer, was told about Foley’s inappropriate conduct in 2002 or 2003 — a finding based on testimony from Foley’s former chief of staff, Kirk Fordham.
Palmer said he didn’t recall the warning, although Fordham even described the room where they met.
Overall, the evidence shows that "concerns began to arise about Rep. Foley’s interactions with pages or other young male staff members" shortly after he took office in 1995, according to the committee report.
The report, prepared by a four-member subcommittee, described "a disconcerting unwillingness to take responsibility for resolving issues regarding Foley’s conduct."
Lawmakers and aides "failed to exercise appropriate diligence and oversight" regarding the interactions between Foley and pages, the report said.
Although the committee recommended no punishments, it said the evidence would have subjected Foley to discipline if the Florida Republican had not resigned — taking himself out of the House’s jurisdiction.
Foley received a subpoena, but his lawyer notified the committee the former lawmaker would invoke his Fifth Amendment rights if compelled to testify. The committee dropped the matter to avoid delays.
Foley’s method of operation was to establish contact with the pages before they left Congress and obtain their e-mails and other contact information.
After their departure, Foley began contacting some of them "with increasingly familiar communications."
"As the former pages responded, the messages from Rep. Foley at times turned to sexually graphic topics, including messages that could be read as sexual solicitation," the committee report said.
The committee said one witness, former House chief clerk Jeff Trandahl, testified he warned the head of the supervisory page board, Rep. John Shimkus, that Foley was a "ticking time bomb" who had been confronted repeatedly.
The warning came in November 2005. Shimkus, an Illinois Republican, confronted Foley and told him to stop sending e-mails to the former Louisiana page.
Polls showed the Foley issue was a factor in Republicans losing their House majority in the November elections — and Hastert being driven from his speaker’s post after eight years.
"The weight of the evidence supports the conclusion that Speaker Hastert was told, at least in passing, about the e-mails by both Majority Leader (John) Boehner, R-Ohio, and Rep. (Tom) Reynolds, R-N.Y., in spring 2006," the report said. Reynolds is the House GOP campaign chairman.
Boehner said he even recalled Hastert telling him the matter "has been taken care of."
A Reynolds aide testified that the campaign chief told her he was late for an appearance because he had to "go see the speaker" about Foley.
Hastert said he learned about Foley’s questionable e-mails to a former Louisiana page only when the scandal broke in late September.
Speculating on the reason for Republicans’ reluctance to act, the committee said:
"Some may have been concerned that raising the issue too aggressively might have risked exposing Rep. Foley’s homosexuality…. There is some evidence that political considerations played a role in decisions that were made by persons in both parties."
Florida authorities have opened a criminal investigation into whether Foley broke any laws related to his communications with the teens. Federal authorities are also investigating.
The report said another of Hastert’s aides, Ted Van Der Meid, "should have done more to learn about the e-mails and how they had been handled," in view of earlier warnings he had received about Foley’s conduct.
One witness, Jeff Trandahl, was the House clerk, and when word of suggestive e-mails surfaced a year ago. He approached Shimkus, the head of the page board. Trandahl testified that he characterized Foley as a "ticking time bomb."
Democrats received a brief mention in the report.
The committee said that one Democratic aide, Matt Miller, had possession of suggestive computer messages written by Foley, and passed them along to reporters as well as a communications aide at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
The investigation suggested politics was a consideration for Republicans, too.
After Foley resigned, Shimkus told another Republican member of the Page Board — Rep. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia — why he never informed the Democratic member of the board, Rep. Dale Kildee of Michigan, about Foley.
Shimkus said, ‘Dale’s a nice guy, but he’s a Democrat, and I was afraid it would be blown out of proportion."
The investigation was overseen by Republican Reps. Doc Hastings of Washington and Judy Biggert of Illinois, and Democratic Reps. Howard Berman of California and Stephanie Tubbs Jones, D-Ohio.
The 89-page report was released on the final full day of the Congress, meaning that any changes in the rules or in the page program must wait until lawmakers return to the Capitol in January.
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Associated Press writers David Espo and Andrew Taylor contributed to this report.