WASHINGTON – Rep. Mark Foley, R-Fla., abruptly resigned from Congress on Friday in the wake of questions about e-mails he wrote a former teenage male page.
“I am deeply sorry and I apologize for letting down my family and the people of Florida I have had the privilege to represent,” Foley, 52, said in a statement issued by his office.
Six hours after his resignation letter was read to the House by a clerk, the chairman of a panel that oversees the page program issued a one-page written statement that deflected any blame from House leaders.
The statement from Rep. John Shimkus, R-Ill., said the House Page Board he chairs investigated the allegations late last year, but he said Foley “was not honest” in denying improper conduct with the teenager. Pages are high school students who attend classes under congressional supervision and work as messengers.
The House voted to have its ethics committee consider whether to investigate further. The Democratic leader, Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California, said the committee should determine who knew of the messages, whether Foley had other contacts with pages and when the Republican leadership was notified of Foley’s conduct.
His departure sent Republicans scrambling for a replacement candidate less than six weeks before midterm elections in which Democrats are making a strong bid to gain control of the House. He had been a shoo-in for a new term.
Foley’s two-sentence statement gave no reason for his decision to abandon a flourishing career in Congress. But several officials said the resignation had been prompted by the e-mails, and he took his action as details emerged about electronic messages he had sent.
The resignation further complicates the political landscape for Republicans, who are fighting to retain control of Congress. Democrats need to win a net of 15 Republican seats.
Florida Republicans planned to meet as soon as Monday to name a replacement in Foley’s district, an area around Palm Beach County that President Bush won with 55 percent in 2004 and is now in play for November. Though Florida ballots have already been printed with Foley’s name and cannot be changed, any votes for Foley will count toward the party’s choice.
Campaign aides had previously acknowledged that the Republican congressman e-mailed the former Capitol page five times but had said there was nothing inappropriate about the exchange. The page was 16 years old at the time.
Rep. Rodney Alexander, R-La., who sponsored the page from his district, said he learned of the e-mails from a reporter some months ago and passed on the information to Rep. Thomas Reynolds, R-N.Y., chairman of the House Republican campaign organization.
Alexander said he did not pursue the matter further because “his parents said they didn’t want me to do anything.”
Carl Forti, a spokesman for the GOP campaign organization, said Reynolds learned from Alexander that the parents did not want to pursue the matter. Forti said, however, that the matter did go before the House Page Board – the three lawmakers and two House officials who oversee the pages.
Shimkus, who avoided reporters for hours, worked out his statement with Speaker Dennis Hastert’s office. He said he promptly investigated what he thought were nonexplicit message exchanges.
“It has become clear to me today, based on information I only now have learned, that Congressman Foley was not honest about his conduct,” Shimkus said.
Shimkus said that in late 2005 he learned – through information passed along by Alexander’s office – about an e-mail exchange that August in which Foley asked about the youth’s well-being after Hurricane Katrina and what he wanted for his birthday and requested a photograph.
“Congressman Foley told the (House) clerk and me that he was simply acting as a mentor … and that nothing inappropriate had occurred,” Shimkus said.
Foley was ordered to cease all contact with the former page and assured Shimkus he would do so, the statement said. He also was advised to watch his conduct with current and former House pages, and he gave assurance he would do so, Shimkus said. He added that there were no further complaints.
Hastert said Friday he had asked Shimkus to investigate the page system. “We want to make sure that all our pages are safe and the page system is safe,” Hastert said.
Hastert said Foley submitted the letter of resignation to Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and a copy to him. A clerk read Foley’s resignation on the House floor.
“He’s done the right thing,” Hastert said. Asked if the chain of events was disturbing, he said, “None of us are very happy about it.”
ABC News reported Friday that Foley also engaged in a series of sexually explicit instant messages with current and former male pages. In one, ABC said, Foley wrote to one page: “Do I make you a little horny?”
In another, Foley wrote, “You in your boxers, too? … Well, strip down and get relaxed.”
Foley, as chairman of the Missing and Exploited Children’s Caucus, had introduced legislation in July to protect children from exploitation by adults over the Internet. He also sponsored other legislation designed to protect minors from abuse and neglect.
Foley was a member of the Republican leadership, serving as a deputy whip. He also was a member of the House Ways and Means Committee.
Foley’s aides initially accused Democratic rival Tim Mahoney and Democrats of attempting to smear the congressman before the election.