BY AMIE PARNES
The FBI has launched a preliminary investigation into the online exchanges between former Rep. Mark Foley and teenage congressional pages, a spokesman confirmed late Sunday.
"The FBI is conducting an assessment to determine if there has been any violation of federal law," said Stephen Kodak, an FBI spokesman.
Earlier Sunday, Speaker of the U.S House of Representatives Dennis Hastert asked the U.S. Justice Department to investigate "improper and illicit" messages between former Rep. Mark Foley and congressional pages.
In a letter addressed to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, Hastert asked the Justice Department to examine who had specific knowledge of the "sexually explicit communications between Mr. Foley and any former or current House pages."
"As Speaker of the House, I hearby request that the Department of Justice conduct an investigation of Mr. Foley’s conduct with current and former House pages to determine to what extent any of his actions violated federal law," Hastert wrote.
He also asked Gonzales to investigate what actions individuals who were aware of Foley’s communications with the pages took to alert law enforcement officials. The investigation should include lawmakers, congressional staffers and "anyone outside the Congress," Hastert said.
Hastert said he was also sending a letter to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement asking them to investigate whether or not any state laws were violated by Foley or anyone else connected to the matter.
A spokesman for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement confirmed that the agency was deciding whether or not to pursue charges against Foley, a Republican whose resignation has temporarily left the Treasure Coast without representation in Congress.
"We will be discussing this matter with the FBI in an effort to determine if there are grounds for a criminal investigation and if so, who has jurisdiction," said Tom Berlinger, the chief media spokesman for the FDLE.
A decision was expected this week, Berlinger said, adding that the agency had not yet contacted Foley.
FBI officials could not be reached for comment.
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a watchdog group, also has asked for a House Ethics Committee investigation on the Foley matter. On Saturday, the group also asked the House to appoint an outside council to investigate the House leadership’s role in covering up the "inappropriate e-mail exchange."
(Contact Amie Parnes at ParnesA(at)SHNS.com.)