WASHINGTON (AP) - Rep. Mark Foley, R-Fla., abruptly resigned from Congress on Friday in the wake of questions about e-mails he wrote a former teenage male page.
"I am deeply sorry and I apologize for letting down my family and the people of Florida I have had the privilege to represent," he said in a statement issued by his office.
His departure sent Republicans scrambling for a replacement candidate less than six weeks before midterm elections in which Democrats are making a strong bid to gain control of the House.
Foley's two-sentence statement gave no reason for Foley's decision to abandon a flourishing career in Congress. But several officials said the resignation had been prompted by the e-mails, and he took his action as fresh details emerged about electronic messages he had sent.
Foley, 52, had been a shoo-in for a new term until the e-mail correspondence surfaced in recent days.
His resignation further complicates the political landscape for Republicans, who are fighting to retain control of Congress. Democrats need to win a net of 15 Republican seats to regain the power they lost in 1994.
Florida Republicans planned to meet as soon as Monday to name a replacement in Foley's district, which President Bush won with 55 percent in 2004 and is now in play for November. Though Florida ballots have already been printed with Foley's name and cannot be changed, any votes for Foley will count toward the party's choice.
Campaign aides had previously acknowledged that the Republican congressman e-mailed the former Capitol page five times, but had said there was nothing inappropriate about the exchange. The page was 16 at the time of the e-mail correspondence.
The page worked for Rep. Rodney Alexander, R-La., who said Friday that when he learned of the e-mail exchanges 10 to 11 months ago, he called the teen's parents. Alexander told the Ruston Daily Leader, "We also notified the House leadership that there might be a potential problem," a reference to the House's Republican leaders.
House Speaker Dennis Hastert said Friday he had asked the chairman of the House's page board, Rep. John Shimkus, R-Ill., to investigate the page system. "We want to make sure that all our pages are safe and the page system is safe," Hastert said.
He said Foley submitted the letter of resignation to Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and submitted a copy to him. A House clerk read Foley's resignation on the House floor.
"He's done the right thing," Hastert said. Asked if the chain of events was disturbing, he said, "None of us are very happy about it."
ABC News reported Friday that Foley also engaged in a series of sexually explicit instant messages with current and former teenage male pages. In one message, ABC said, Foley wrote to one page: "Do I make you a little horny?"
In another message, Foley wrote, "You in your boxers, too? ... Well, strip down and get naked."
Foley, as chairman of the Missing and Exploited Children's Caucus, had introduced legislation in July to protect children from exploitation by adults over the Internet. He also sponsored other legislation designed to protect minors from abuse and neglect.
"We track library books better than we do sexual predators," Foley has said.
Foley was a member of the Republican leadership, serving as a deputy whip. He also was a member of the House Ways and Means Committee.
Foley, who represents an area around Palm Beach County, e-mailed the page in August 2005. Foley asked him how he was doing after Hurricane Katrina and what he wanted for his birthday. The congressman also asked the boy to send a photo of himself, according to excerpts of the e-mails that were originally released by ABC News.
Foley's aides initially blamed Democratic rival Tim Mahoney and Democrats with attempting to smear the congressman before the election.
The e-mails were posted Friday on Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington's Web site after ABC News reported their existence. The group asked the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct to investigate the exchange Foley had with the boy.
Naomi Seligman, a spokewoman for CREW, said the group also sent a letter to the FBI after the group received the e-mails. CREW did not post their copies of the e-mail until ABC News reported them, instead waiting for the investigation.
"The House of Representatives has an obligation to protect the teenagers who come to Congress to learn about the legislative process," the group wrote, adding that the committee, "must investigate any allegation that a page has been subjected to sexual advances by members of the House."
In 2003, Foley faced questions about his sexual orientation as he prepared to run for Sen. Bob Graham's seat. At a news conference in May of that year, he said he would not comment on rumors he was gay. He later decided not to seek the Senate seat to care for his parents.
According to the CREW posting, the boy e-mailed a colleague in Alexander's office about Foley's e-mails, saying, "This freaked me out." On the request for a photo, the boy repeated the word "sick" 13 times.
He said Foley asked for his e-mail when the boy gave him a thank you card. The boy also said Foley wrote that he e-mailed another page.
"he's such a nice guy," Foley wrote about the other boy. "acts much older than his age...and hes in really great shape...i am just finished riding my bike on a 25 mile journey now heading to the gym...whats school like for you this year?"
In other e-mails, Foley wrote, "I am back in Florida now...its nice here...been raining today...it sounds like you will have some fun over the next few weeks...how old are you now?" and "how are you weathering the hurricane...are you safe...send me an email pic of you as well."
What the boy wrote to Foley, who is single, wasn't available. The e-mails were sent from Foley's personal account, which Foley spokesman Jason Kello says he uses to communicate with many people, including the governor.
Efforts to reach the boy were unsuccessful, but he told the St. Petersburg Times last November, "I thought it was very inappropriate. After the one about the picture, I decided to stop e-mailing him back." The Times didn't publish the comments until Friday.
Alexander said the boy notified a staffer in his office about the e-mails. The congressman said he learned of it from a reporter 10 or 11 months ago and promptly called the boy's parents.
"My concern then was the young man's interests and the parents' interests," Alexander said Friday. "We weren't trying to protect anybody except the parents. ... They told me they were comfortable with it and didn't want to pursue anything, didn't want to talk about it anymore."
Florida Republican Party lawyers were reviewing the process to pick a replacement. Party Chairwoman Carole Jean Jordan said she hopes a replacement will be chosen by Monday. Among the possibilities was state Rep. Joe Negron, who was a candidate for attorney general before dropping out of the race to avoid a primary with former Rep. Bill McCollum.
"It would be very time sensitive so the nominee would have the opportunity to get around the district and campaign in a very short amount of time," Jordan said.
David Johnson, a former state Republican chairman who worked as a strategist for Foley, said it will be difficult for the party's pick to win with Foley's name on the ballot.
Mahoney, a Republican who became a Democrat last year, is chairman and chief operating officer of a $1 billion-a-year financial services company. In his House bid, he has focused on Washington corruption and oversized deficits.
In a statement, Mahoney said, "The challenges facing congressman Foley make this is a difficult time for the people of the 16th district. The families of all of those involved are in our thoughts and prayers."
In 1983, the House censured two lawmakers - Daniel Crane of Illinois and Gerry Studds of Massachusetts - for having improper relationships with pages.
The page program is for high school students who study at a congressional school while also carrying out tasks for lawmakers.MyWay
OMG this story just gets worse and worse. The Republican leadership knew all about this, and did nothing potentially putting other children at risk.
The only reason we are hearing about this now is because ABC went public, imagine that, while the House leadership sat on this story weary of what it might do for the elections. They sat on a case of child endangerment. They should have started and investigation, they should have thrown the pervert out of their caucus, they should have had him up on charges.
If you can imagine, if instead of Foley, a white guy, this case would revolved around some 20 year old black guy, they would be throwing the book at him, he'd be in jail so fast his ass would spin. But no, a white Republican congressman, and they cover it up for as long as the can.
I think the House leadership should be brought up on charges for endangering the safety of the pages under their care.