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Speaker Hastert Under Fire for Handling of Foley E-mails

House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., dismissed calls for his resignation Tuesday, as reports revealed that he was aware of messages sent to congressional pages by former Rep. Mark Foley, R-Fla. Analysts debate whether Hastert should step down.

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  • MARGARET WARNER:

    The attorney for disgraced former Republican Congressman Mark Foley said late today that Foley is gay and had been molested as a young teenager by a member of the clergy. The lawyer also insisted that Foley has never had any sexual contact with a minor.

  • DAVID ROTH:

    Mark was under the influence of alcohol at the time that he sent the inappropriate e-mails and IMs, alleged e-mails and IMs, that I have been advised of.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    The press conference followed new reports today of more sexually graphic instant messages between Foley and male congressional pages.

    ABC News, whose earlier reports led to Foley's resignation last Friday, today posted the transcript of an instant message exchange from April 2003. If true, it strongly suggests that the congressman left a vote on the House floor to engage in cybersex with a former page.

    But it was House Speaker Dennis Hastert who found himself under the heaviest fire today for his handling of the matter. In its lead editorial this morning, the conservative Washington Times newspaper said it was time for Hastert to step aside as speaker, writing, "Either he was grossly negligent for not taking the red flags fully into account and ordering a swift investigation, for not even remembering the order of events leading up to last week's revelations, or he deliberately looked the other way in hopes that a brewing scandal would simply blow away."

    Hastert spokesman Ron Bonjean pushed back, saying the speaker "has and will lead the Republican conference to another majority in the 110th Congress."

    In his defense, Hastert said yesterday he never knew until informed by recent news accounts of sexually graphic instant messages that Foley sent in 2003 to several pages.

    REP. DENNIS HASTERT (R-IL), Speaker of the House: No one in the Republican leadership, nor Congress Shimkus, saw those messages until last Friday, when ABC News released them to the public.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    The speaker has been less definitive about Republican colleague Tom Reynolds' claim that he told Hastert last spring about a 2005 e-mail described as overly friendly, but not sexually explicit, that Foley sent to a former page for Louisiana Republican Rodney Alexander.

    In that exchange, Foley had asked the 16-year-old boy for a photograph and mentioned a different teen who was in, quote, "great shape." Congressman Alexander learned of the e-mail last fall. He alerted Congressman Shimkus, who heads the page oversight board. Shimkus told Foley to cease contact with the boy.

    Hastert has said he does not remember Reynolds passing the information onto him, but he also says he has no reason to dispute Reynolds' recollection that he did.

    In a radio interview this morning, Majority Leader John Boehner said he thinks Hastert did know about the e-mail months ago and suggested it was Hastert's job to follow up.

    REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), House Majority Leader: I believe I talked to the speaker, and he told me it had been taken care of. And in my position, it's in his corner. It's his responsibility. The clerk of the House who runs the page program, the page board, all report to the speaker, and I believed that it had been dealt with.