Springfield Journal Register

October 2, 1006

Hastert, Shimkus defend actions

Say Foley deceieved them about improper messages sent to pages

WASHINGTON - House Speaker Dennis Hastert on Monday defended the way he and fellow Illinois Rep. John Shimkus handled complaints of improper e-mails from former Rep. Mark Foley to congressional pages.

Shimkus, a Republican from Collinsville who chairs a panel that oversees the page program, was criticized by Democrats and some Republicans for failing to take stronger action last fall when initial complaints were made that Foley had asked for a former male page's photograph.

"Congressman Foley duped a lot of people. He lied to Mr. Shimkus, and he deceived his in-state paper when they each questioned him," Hastert told reporters. "I have known him for all the years he served in this House. He deceived me, too."

Foley, a six-term Republican from Florida, resigned Friday after news reports that he sent e-mails and instant messages of a sexual nature to current and former pages. Foley has checked into a treatment facility for alcoholism, his attorney announced Monday

Questioned repeatedly about why Shimkus quietly confronted Foley last year about some non-explicit e-mails without consulting other members of the House Page Board, Hastert indicated Shimkus was following the wishes of the parents of the former page who had received the e-mails.

"I think Congressman Shimkus acted in an expedited manner to find out what happened, again with what the framework of what the family concern was," Hastert said.Shimkus did not take questions from reporters after making a brief statement with Hastert in the Capitol.

Shimkus described the instant messages Foley sent to a former page - which are reportedly more explicit than the initial e-mails he discussed with Foley in 2005 - as "deplorable."

"When I learned of these instant messages last Friday from ABC News reports, the very thought of this behavior made me sick. Mark Foley should be ashamed," Shimkus said.

Shimkus, who is seeking re-election to his sixth term, was criticized by the other two members of the House Page Board for not informing them of the initial complaints last fall.

"I was outraged to learn that the House Republican leadership kept to itself the knowledge of Mr. Foley's despicable behavior toward the House pages," said Rep. Dale Kildee, D-Mich., who serves on the board.

He also complained about not being consulted on changes in the page program proposed by Hastert and Shimkus on Monday. The two Republicans said they were setting up a toll-free hot line to collect other complaints by current and former pages, their family members or others.

"Once again, the House Republican leadership is following the same pattern of unilateral decision-making that caused this problem in the first place..." Kildee said.

Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W. Va., the third member of the panel, told a hometown paper: "I feel we should have been informed. I'm absolutely disgusted by what I'm hearing. I was caught totally unaware."

Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., called for Shimkus to resign as head of the panel.

Meanwhile, the conservative group Judicial Watch has strongly criticized House Republican leaders, including Hastert and Shimkus, for failing to take action earlier.

"When and what did Foley's House colleagues know about his seemingly illegal and clearly immoral behavior and what did they do about it?" Judicial Watch president Tom Fitton asked. "Any member of Congress who knew about Foley's inappropriate actions before the recent flood of news coverage and failed to take meaningful action should resign."

Hastert insisted that "no one in the Republican leadership, nor Congressman Shimkus, saw those (explicit) messages until last Friday." Hastert and Shimkus both emphasized that the improper contact occurred after the pages had left Washington.

When the House clerk brought the complaints to Shimkus last fall, Shimkus said in a statement released Friday night, "I took immediate action to investigate the matter." When he asked Foley about the e-mail, Foley said he was simply acting as a mentor and that nothing inappropriate occurred. Nevertheless, Shimkus said he asked him to stop contacting the teen.

In a meeting with reporters after Monday's Capitol news conference, Hastert was asked why Shimkus didn't suspect more was behind a 52-year-old man asking a 16-year-old boy for his photo.

"I think that is apparent that would raise a red flag. Evidently, it raised a red flag with the kid, with the page, and that is what triggered this response," Hastert said.

But he defended Shimkus, saying, "What he did was to make the contact that the parents wanted him to or wanted somebody to."

 

Dori Meinert can be reached at (202) 737-7686 or dori.meinert@copleydc.com.