Foley in rehab as House Republicans try to contain damage

Monday, October 2nd 2006, 6:38 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Former Rep. Mark Foley, under FBI investigation for salacious e-mail exchanges with teenage congressional pages, has checked himself into rehabilitation facility for alcoholism treatment and accepts responsibility for his actions, his attorney said Monday.

The attorney, David Roth, would not identify the facility, but told the Associated Press in West Palm Beach, Fla., that Foley had checked in over the weekend.

"I strongly believe that I am an alcoholic and have accepted the need for immediate treatment for alcoholism and other behavioral problems," Foley, a Republican, said in a statement, Roth told the AP.

In scorching language, House Republican leaders on Monday condemned Foley's actions as they tried to contain the damage to the party five weeks before midterm elections.

"Congressman Foley duped a lot of people ... He deceived the good men and women in organizations around the country with whom he worked to strengthen child predator laws," Speaker Dennis Hastert told reporters. "I have known him all the years he served in the House and he deceived me too."

The Bush administration, meanwhile, sought to distance itself from the scandal and the increasing questions about when members of the House Republican leadership knew of the e-mail exchanges and what did they know of Foley's actions. Coming five weeks before the election, the scandal involving the Republican congressman could cost the GOP control of the House.

"The House has to clean up the mess, to the extent there is a mess," White House spokesman Tony Snow told reporters at a briefing.

Foley abruptly quit Congress on Friday after reports surfaced that he'd sent sexually charged electronic messages to boys working as pages. In the statement, Foley said the "events that led to my resignation have crystalized recognition of my long-standing and significant alcoholism and emotional difficulties."

"I deeply regret and accept full responsibility for the harm I have caused," Foley said. He also expressed "gratitude for the prayers and words of encouragement that have been conveyed to me."

The FBI, meanwhile, "is conducting an assessment to see if there's been a violation of federal law," according to FBI spokesman Richard Kolko.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement said Monday it was also investigating whether the e-mail communications violated state law. Spokesman Tom Berlinger called the state probe "a precursor to a possible criminal investigation."

Florida Republicans picked former state Rep. Joe Negron to replace Foley as its candidate in the West Palm Beach district, which is largely Republican.

House Republicans went into damage control mode amid charges by Democrats that some House leaders may have known for months about Foley's inappropriate overtures toward the young pages.

Hastert met with his staff, the House clerk and Rep. John Shimkus, R-Ill., the congressman who oversees the page program, to review the procedures on protecting the teenage pages while they are working at the Capitol and after they finish their assignments.

Hastert in a letter sent Sunday to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, asked the Justice Department to "conduct an investigation of Mr. Foley's conduct with current and former House pages," including "any sexually explicit communications between Mr. Foley and any former or current House pages and what actions such individuals took, if any, to provide them to law enforcement."

Democrats demanded that investigators determine whether Republican leaders tried to cover up Foley's actions for political reasons.

"The attorney general should open a full-scale investigation immediately," Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada said in a statement, including whether GOP leaders "knew there was a problem and ignored it to preserve a congressional seat this election year."

FBI cyber sleuths are looking into the text of some of the Foley messages, checking to see how many e-mails and instant electronic messages were sent and how many computers were used, according to a law enforcement official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the ongoing investigation.

The FBI also was trying to determine if any of the teenagers who received messages are willing to cooperate with the investigation, the official said.

Ironically, Foley, who is 52 and single, could be found to have violated a law that he helped to write as co-chairman of the Congressional Missing and Exploited Children's Caucus.

Rep. Thomas Reynolds of New York, head of the House Republican election effort, said he told Hastert months ago about the allegations involving a 16-year-old boy from Louisiana.

Hastert acknowledged that his staff had been made aware of concerns about what they termed "over-friendly" e-mails Foley had sent to the teenager -- including one requesting his picture -- in the fall of 2005, and that they referred the matter to the House clerk.

But Hastert said those e-mails were not viewed as "sexual in nature" and that he was not aware of "a different set of communications which were sexually explicit ... which Mr. Foley reportedly sent another former page or pages."