Springfield State Journal Register

October 7, 2006

Shimkus demands Durbin’s apology

Senator, Pelosi criticized handling of Foley e-mails

WASHINGTON - Rep. John Shimkus on Friday demanded an apology from Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., for criticizing him for not fully investigating inappropriate e-mails from former Rep. Mark Foley to a former House page.

The Collinsville Republican, who chairs the board that oversees the House page program, pointed to a statement issued Thursday by the Louisiana teen’s parents to confirm his earlier explanation that he was respecting their request for privacy when he handled the matter quietly with Foley. The parents said they didn’t think the e-mails were serious enough “to warrant an investigation” and wanted “to avoid a media frenzy.”

In an interview on WFMB-AM radio in Springfield, Shimkus accused Durbin and Pelosi of conducting “a partisan political witch hunt” and said they should apologize to him, the page and the page’s family.

But a Durbin spokesman said Shimkus, who represents part of Springfield, “still doesn’t get it.”

“John Shimkus had a larger obligation - to look out for the well-being of all the pages,” Durbin spokesman Joe Shoemaker said. “He could have fulfilled his obligation, protected the privacy of all the families involved and still conducted a real investigation.”

Durbin has called for Shimkus to resign from the page board.

Shimkus said he confronted Foley and told him to stop contacting pages.

But he didn’t inform the other lawmakers on the bipartisan page board or investigate whether other pages had received inappropriate electronic messages.

The e-mail to the Louisiana teen asked for a photograph but didn’t contain sexually explicit language as did instant messages to other former pages that forced Foley’s resignation last week. On Friday, Shimkus continued a media whirlwind to confront the controversy, granting interviews to four radio stations, four television stations and one newspaper.

“What they’re doing is they’re using this poor boy and they’re using this family to create lies and to create panic only for the worst partisan political gain, and it’s just sickening,” Shimkus said in the WFMB interview.

Conservative Republicans also have criticized Shimkus and House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Plano, for failing to dig deeper to find out if the problem was more widespread. Conservative activists such as Richard Viguerie and Bay Buchanan said this week that a grown man’s request for a teen’s photo via the Internet is a classic move by a sexual predator that should have prompted more investigation.

The parents of the former page defended their local congressman, Rep. Rodney Alexander, R-La., who had sponsored the boy as a page and brought their concerns about Foley’s e-mails to Hastert’s staff. The statement said they asked for privacy when they discussed the matter with Alexander.

They said Alexander called them after learning of the e-mails from their son and that “while he (Alexander) thought the e-mails were overfriendly, he did not think, nor did we think, that they were offensive enough to warrant an investigation.”

“Rather, we asked him to see that Congressman Foley stop e-mailing or contacting our son and to otherwise drop the matter in order to avoid a media frenzy. He did so,” they wrote. “If we had any other knowledge or evidence of potential impropriety, we would have asked for the matter to be treated differently. For instance, we were not aware of the instant messages that have come to light in the past few days.”

The parents also called their son a hero and asked the media to leave him alone.

“Despite his courageous actions, he is becoming a victim due to the harassment by some of the media,” they stated. “He is not the story and we feel this intense media scrutiny could endanger our son and his family.”

With Durbin traveling in Afghanistan, his spokesman fired back at Shimkus with a lengthy written statement.

“When he was confronted with an e-mail from a grown man soliciting pictures of a teen boy - did Congressman Shimkus call in the police or contact the ethics committee? Did he convene a meeting of the bipartisan page board to investigate? Did he even check with the other boys and girls in the page program to see if the alleged misconduct was occurring with others?” Shoemaker asked.

“No, instead he ‘talked’ with the suspected offender and proceeded to sweep it under the rug,” Shoemaker said, adding that Durbin doesn’t question Shimkus’ personal values.

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