Springfield Journal Register

October 4, 2006

Shimkus blasts back at questions about Foley

 

WASHINGTON - Rep. John Shimkus on Tuesday angrily defended himself against accusations he didn't thoroughly investigate the inappropriate e-mails from then-Rep. Mark Foley to a former teenage page last fall.

"This is so ludicrous and so ridiculous that people are asking me to have more information on law enforcement than the FBI or credible investigative journalists, who decided they didn't have enough information to proceed," Shimkus said in a phone interview late Tuesday.

He spoke one day after making a more limited public statement to reporters at the Capitol.

The Collinsville Republican, who heads the three-member panel in charge of the House page program, said he was respecting the wishes of the boy's parents when he spoke with Foley privately about the matter without informing others on the panel. That was almost a year before more sexually explicit instant messages from Foley to another former page became public, forcing the Florida Republican's resignation.

Shimkus said he didn't inform the other two members of the House Page Board "because it didn't rise to the level of what I needed consensus for on the Page Board. It did not rise to the level of expulsion, where we expel kids, when we have to do big things.

"We were asked for discretion by the parents, and I wanted to respect the wishes of the parents."

The former page's parents have not spoken out publicly since the scandal broke.

Shimkus said he immediately confronted Foley last fall after the House clerk gave him the text of the e-mail from the six-term congressman, requesting a photo of the 16-year-old former page. The portion of the e-mail he saw did not contain explicit sexual content, although he acknowledged "it must have sent up a red flag to the parents, who asked me to intervene."

House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Plano, told talk show host Rush Limbaugh Tuesday, "We didn't know what the text of that message was because the parents held it, and they didn't want it revealed." It wasn't clear to whom Hastert was referring.

Shimkus said he only received the text of the e-mail provided by the parents to the House clerk, and it didn't identify the sender or recipient.

"What I was asked to do was confront Mark Foley based upon parental concern based on this one e-mail," Shimkus said, adding that the parents wanted someone to tell Foley to leave their son alone, but that he went beyond that by telling Foley to "stay away from the pages."

Shimkus and Hastert have said they learned of the sexually explicit instant messages, which are different from the e-mail Shimkus was referring to, Friday when the first news reports came out about them. Foley resigned the same day.

At least two Florida newspapers have acknowledged they received copies of e-mails sent by Foley last year, but decided it wasn't enough to publish a story that could destroy his career.

Conservative Republicans and Democrats have criticized Shimkus and Hastert for not investigating the initial complaint more thoroughly.

In the interview Tuesday, Shimkus responded tersely to a suggestion by Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., that Shimkus should resign as head of the House Page Board.

"Senator Durbin ought to keep his nose out of House business and be the Democratic leader of the minority party in the Senate," Shimkus said.

The other two members of the House Page Board - one Democrat, one Republican - have complained that they weren't informed of the parents' concerns at the time.

Asked whether that made it look like a political cover-up, Shimkus said: "Bull--, what I regret is that now it's used for the political expediency, for a political agenda by the Democrats. Anybody who knows me knows that I wouldn't do anything to assault or hurt these kids.

"I put more time in to protect these kids than anyone. For these people to try to take me down because of this is unconscionable. They ought to be ashamed of themselves. For my former friends who are Democrats and who are leading this charge, I know what their true values are."

Shimkus accused the media of falling for what he said is a pre-election Democratic ploy.

"You're feeding right into the Democrats. You ought to be ashamed of yourselves. This is an October surprise, and you guys have fallen hook, line and sinker for it," Shimkus said.

The Arlington Group, a coalition of prominent conservatives who normally support Republicans, issued a statement Tuesday expressing concern that "the early warnings of Mr. Foley's odd behavior toward young male pages may have been overlooked or treated with deference, fearing a backlash from the radical gay rights movement because of Mr. Foley's sexual orientation."