WASHINGTON – Rep. Thomas Reynolds, head of the House Republican election effort, said Saturday he told Speaker Dennis Hastert months ago about concerns that a fellow GOP lawmaker had sent inappropriate messages to a teenage boy.
Hastert's office said aides referred the matter to the proper authorities last fall but they were only told the messages were "over-friendly."
Reynolds, R-N.Y., was told about e-mails sent by Rep. Mark Foley and is now defending himself from Democratic accusations that he did too little. Foley, R-Fla., resigned Friday after ABC News questioned him about the e-mails to a former congressional page and about sexually suggestive instant messages to other pages.
The boy who received the e-mails was 16 in the summer of 2005 when he worked in Congress as a page. After the boy returned to his Louisiana home, the congressman e-mailed him. The teenager thought the messages were inappropriate, particularly one in which Foley asked the teen to send a picture of himself.
The teen's family contacted their congressman, Rep. Rodney Alexander, R-La., who then discussed the problem with Reynolds sometime this spring.
"Rodney Alexander brought to my attention the existence of e-mails between Mark Foley and a former page of Mr. Alexander's," Reynolds, chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, said in a written statement Saturday.
"Despite the fact that I had not seen the e-mails in question, and Mr. Alexander told me that the parents didn't want the matter pursued, I told the speaker of the conversation Mr. Alexander had with me," Reynolds said.
Hastert said he does not remember talking to Reynolds about the Foley e-mails, but did not dispute Reynolds' account.
"While the speaker does not explicitly recall this conversation, he has no reason to dispute Congressman Reynolds' recollection that he reported to him on the problem and its resolution," Hastert's aides said in a preliminary report on the matter issued Saturday.
The report includes a lengthy timeline detailing when they first learned of the worrisome e-mail in the fall of 2005, after a staffer for Alexander told Hastert's office the family wanted Foley to stop contacting their son. Alexander's staffer did not share the contents of the e-mail, saying it was not sexual but "over-friendly," the report says.
Hastert's aides referred the matter to the Clerk of the House, and "mindful of the sensitivity of the parent's wishes to protect their child's privacy and believing that they had promptly reported what they knew to the proper authorities," they did not discuss it with others in Hastert's office — including, apparently, their boss.
After the issue was referred to the clerk, it was passed along to the congressman who oversees the page program, Rep. John Shimkus, R-Ill.
Shimkus has said he learned about the e-mail exchange in late 2005 and took immediate action to investigate.
He said Foley told him it was an innocent exchange. Shimkus said he warned Foley not to have any more contact with the teenager and to respect other pages.
Democrats charged Reynolds did far too little and said more digging should be done.
"Congressman Reynolds' inaction in the face of such a serious situation is very troubling, and raises important questions about whether there was an attempt to cover up criminal activity involving a minor to keep it from coming to light before Election Day," said Democratic National Committee spokeswoman Karen Finney.
New York Democrats hoping to unseat Reynolds blasted the congressman, saying they call into question the Republican's values.
"Mr. Reynolds knew about these allegedly inappropriate e-mails from a fellow congressman to a minor for months and didn't lift a finger," said Blake Zeff, a spokesman for the state Democrats.