WASHINGTON – House Republican leaders should have kept Democrats in the loop — and now must conduct a thorough investigation — about the inappropriate e-mails that led to Rep. Mark Foley's resignation, a top Democrat said Sunday.
"This should be investigated objectively. I think the Democratic leadership should have been told 10 months ago," said Rep. Jane Harman of California, top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee. "I gather that basically nothing was done except that Foley was warned."
Foley, R-Fla., quit Congress on Friday after the disclosure of the e-mails to a teenage boy who was a former congressional page and the lawmaker's sexually suggestive instant messages to other pages.
White House aide Dan Bartlett said the allegations against Foley were shocking and that President Bush had not been informed previously about the e-mails. Bartlett said there was no need for an independent outside investigation.
"The leadership appear to be very aggressive in pursuing this investigation," he said. "I think that's the best place for this investigation to go forward."
House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., said at first he had learned only last week about the e-mails Foley sent to a page. Hastert later acknowledged that aides referred the matter to the authorities last fall.
Hastert's office said, however, it was only aware the e-mails were "over-friendly," and asked for a review by the House board that oversees pages late last year.
Hastert, Majority Leader John Boehner and Majority Whip Roy Blunt, R-Mo., said in a joint statement Saturday that "the improper communications between Congressman Mark Foley and former House congressional pages is unacceptable and abhorrent. It is an obscene breach of trust."
Foley, who is 52 and single, was co-chairman of the Congressional Missing and Exploited Children's Caucus. In a statement released by his office Friday, the lawmaker said, "I am deeply sorry and I apologize for letting down my family and the people of Florida I have had the privilege to represent."
The House voted Friday to refer the matter for investigation by the House ethics committee. Democrats said Sunday any investigation must be thorough, but completed quickly.
"I am not comfortable with where we're leaving this. It's not my call what we do next, but more needs to be done," Harman said. "There's been a Republican investigation for 24 hours of Republican activity, I just don't think that that is adequate."
Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., faulted the House GOP leadership for not acting sooner. "It's outrageous," he said, citing reports indicating they were told months ago. "We have an obligation to protect these young pages. ... It really makes me nervous that they might have tried to cover this up."
He called for a quick investigation before the November elections to "hold people accountable," but said there was no need for an outside investigation. "I think it's something the ethics committee can handle. ... It's something that can be handled internally."
Rep. Thomas Reynolds, head of the House Republican election effort, said Saturday he told Hastert months ago about concerns Foley sent inappropriate messages to a teenage boy. Reynolds, R-N.Y., is under attack from Democrats who say he did too little to protect the boy.
Republican leaders say it's their duty to ensure House pages' safety, and are now creating a toll-free hot line for pages and their families to call to confidentially report any incidents. They also will consider adopting new rules on communications between lawmakers and pages.
The boy who received the e-mails was 16 in the summer of 2005 when he was a House page. After his return home to Louisiana, Foley e-mailed him and asked for a picture. That request was "sick" and "freaked me out," the boy said in an e-mail to a colleague in the office of Rep. Rodney Alexander, R-La., who had sponsored the boy in the House.
Harman was on "FOX News Sunday," while Bartlett and Murtha appeared on ABC's "This Week."