October 4, 2006 in Nation/World

Foley says clergyman molested him

Charles Babington and Dan Balz Washington Post
 
Associated Press photo

President Bush walks out to speak to reporters during his visit Tuesday to George W. Bush Elementary School in Stockton, Calif. In his remarks, Bush praised House Speaker Dennis Hastert, who is fighting calls to resign.
(Full-size photo)

WASHINGTON – Disgraced lawmaker Mark Foley’s behavior was affected by alcoholism and childhood molestation, but he “never attempted to have sexual contact with a minor,” his lawyer said Tuesday in the first extensive defense of the Florida Republican’s actions, which have rocked Congress and the GOP.

The comments came as embattled House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., turned to conservative talk radio hosts to defend his handling of the Foley matter and as rank-and-file House Republicans took a wait-and-see approach on their leader’s fate. President Bush praised Hastert, but the House’s second-ranking Republican challenged the speaker’s account of how the Foley scandal unfolded.

Attorney David Roth told reporters in Florida that Foley was intoxicated when he sent lewd electronic messages to former House pages but was always sober when conducting official business during his 12 years in Congress. Roth said he could not explain new reports of an exchange in which Foley appeared to be having Internet sex with a youth while participating in a House roll call vote.

Roth also said Foley is gay and was abused by clergy between the ages of 13 and 15. Foley, who is single and Roman Catholic, will fully cooperate with law enforcement officers and will preserve all records, e-mails and other items they might want to review, Roth said.

Foley, 52, abruptly resigned his seat Friday and checked into an alcohol-treatment facility in Florida.

While Roth was making his claims, federal agents were interviewing former House pages and asking whether Foley crossed state lines to have sex with minors, law enforcement officials said. The widening investigation comes amid reports of lewd electronic messages in which Foley appeared to refer to past or future meetings with former pages, in Washington and other cities.

ABC News, which first reported on the graphic instant-messages, Tuesday posted a new electronic exchange in which Foley allegedly had simulated sex with a former page during a 15-minute House vote in 2003.

While federal authorities began their inquiry, the debate over the GOP’s handling of the Foley affair raged on. The Washington Times’ conservative editorial page called on Hastert to resign. It joined other critics in saying that Hastert and a few lieutenants tried to smother a 2005 complaint about Foley instead of launching inquiries that might have uncovered raunchier exchanges in 2003 with teenagers who had spent a semester on Capitol Hill.

Hastert turned to a half-dozen friendly talk-radio hosts to repeat his argument that the early warnings did not justify punishing Foley or launching an internal inquiry of Foley’s conduct. They involved e-mails in 2005 from Foley asking a Louisiana boy for his birthday wishes and a photograph, which alarmed the youth and his parents. Moreover, Hastert told Rush Limbaugh, “We did not know what the text of that message was because the parents held it and they didn’t want it revealed.”

Meanwhile, few Republican House members – who control Hastert’s fate – made comments for or against the speaker. Majority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, told a Cincinnati radio station that he told Hastert this spring of the early concerns about Foley, one of two such reported conversations that Hastert says he does not recall. “My position is it’s in his corner, it’s his responsibility,” Boehner said.

Later, however, Boehner issued a letter saying Hastert should not resign.

Bush, in his first comments about the scandal, condemned Foley’s behavior and praised Hastert but refused to take questions about whether he agreed with conservatives who had called on the speaker to resign his post. “I was disgusted by the revelations and disappointed that he (Foley) would violate the trust of the citizens who placed him in office,” Bush said at an elementary school during a campaign swing in California.

The president, endorsing the FBI and congressional investigations, called Hastert “a father, teacher, coach who cares about the children of this country” who wants “all the facts to come out” while protecting the young people in the congressional page program.

In his late-afternoon news conference, Roth said Foley “does not blame the trauma he sustained as a young adolescent for his totally inappropriate e-mails and IMs,” or instant messages. “He continues to offer no excuse whatsoever for his conduct.” He said Foley “kept his shame to himself for almost 40 years. Specifically, Mark has asked that you be told that between the ages of 13 and 15 he was molested by a clergyman.” Roth declined to name the clergyman’s religion.


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