FBI blamed for slow action in Foley case
Published: Tuesday, January 23, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 23, 2007 at 12:10 a.m.
WASHINGTON - The FBI should have acted to protect teenage House pages when it initially learned last July that Rep. Mark Foley had sent disturbing e-mails to a former page, a Justice Department report concluded Monday.
The bureau, which at the time declined to investigate, also made inaccurate statements to the news media about its decision, the report said. It said that bureau spokesmen wrongly asserted that the decision was influenced by a congressional watchdog group's failure to provide information missing from the e-mails.
The report, by Inspector General Glenn Fine, said the group was not asked to provide any additional information from the e-mails - nor did the missing material influence the decision not to investigate the Florida Republican.
''We believe the FBI should have considered taking some steps to ensure that any minors in the Congressional page program were not at risk of predatory behavior by Foley,'' Fine reported.
Such actions by the FBI could have included interviewing the former page and notifying House officials overseeing the page program about the e-mails.
The inspector general, however, found no misconduct by FBI officials, who at the time were aware only of e-mails to a former Louisiana page that were not sexually explicit and gave no indication of criminal activity.
The FBI said the inspector general acknowledged that its assessment ''was conducted after the fact and after explicit instant messages surfaced - none of which were part of the FBI's initial evaluation.''
The bureau promised to carefully examine its policies for disseminating information to see whether changes are warranted.
The group that provided the e-mails, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) said it had been vindicated by the report.
''Not only did the FBI fail to investigate the possible sexual abuse of minors by a sitting member of Congress, the bureau then tried to cover up it's shocking inaction by blaming CREW. The IG's report vindicates CREW completely.''
The bureau did launch an investigation after Foley, R-Fla., resigned last Sept. 29 and the news media revealed he had sent instant electronic messages with sexual overtones to former male pages. The FBI has not commented on the results of that investigation.
''We believe that the e-mails provided enough troubling indications on their face, particularly given the position of trust and authority that Foley held with respect to House pages, that a better practice for the FBI would have been to take at least some follow-up steps,'' the report said.
The action could have included a preliminary inquiry with an interview of a former page. Alternatively, officials should have considered ''notifying the House authorities in charge of the page program about the concerns expressed by the former page,'' Fine's report said.
In fact, some House officials did know about the e-mails, sent in 2005. The chairman of the House Page Board overseeing the program, Republican Rep. John Shimkus of Illinois, confronted Foley about them and told him to stop sending the messages.
However, Shimkus has been criticized by members of both parties for failing to convene the page board, and the body was reconstituted last week to ensure that it would better handle future problems.
The substance of the e-mails to the Louisiana page has long been known. Foley asked what the youngster wanted for his birthday and asked for a picture.
The youngster told others the e-mails ''freaked me out'' and repeated multiple times that they were ''sick.''
The internal Justice report said that at the very least the bureau should have notified the organization that provided the e-mails that it had declined to open an investigation.
CREW had been relying on the FBI to pursue the matter and had not notified anyone else about the e-mails while waiting for the bureau to act.
The House voted unanimously last Friday to provide both parties equal membership on the board that oversees the page program and to add a parent and a former page to that body.
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