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Foley page scandal dominates news

By By Jo Bonner
The story dominating the news over the past week has been former Congressman Mark Foley, who was forced to resign his House seat after the revelations he had sexually explicit computer conversations with teenage boys who had worked as pages in the Capitol.
As a father, these actions are indefensible. There's no one word to describe my reaction to Mark Foley's actions. I'm mad and angry that he could be so despicable as to prey on children. I'm also embarrassed that he would tarnish the halls of Congress with this perverted, abhorrent behavior.
Initial reports revolved around "overly friendly" emails between Mark Foley and a 17 year old former page, but we later learned that he exchanged sexually explicit instant electronic messages, or "IMs," with another page. There may be even more incidents. At the time of this writing, each news cycle is revealing new developments, some of which are mere rumor and others which might prove true. The only clear part of the story is that we do not yet know all of the facts.
Last week, Speaker Hastert established a page tip line which can be used by anyone with information on the Foley matter or to report any other issues with the House Page program. Currently, the Department of Justice, the House Ethics Committee, and the state of Florida are all investigating this matter.
These investigations will determine whether there was criminal activity, what exactly that activity involved, and whether there was a cover-up. It is not until these questions are answered that we will have a clear understanding of the events and can make an informed decision.
These investigations must be conducted in a manner that is not a "witch hunt" but allows the American people to know that we are taking these charges seriously. It is also important that appropriate actions are taken, which cannot be done until we have all of the facts.
Some have called for Speaker Hastert to resign, and again, this is a rush to judgment. Last week, the Speaker told members on a conference call that he did not know about the explicit details of Mark Foley's exchanges with these pages until the end of September, and I take him at his word. He is a former history teacher, a former wrestling coach, and he has always been truthful and honest to the core; moreover, he is a man of the highest moral integrity, and I cannot believe that he would intentionally or knowingly mislead us about what he knew and when.
For more than 150 years, pages have served in the United States Congress. The House Page program is an important educational opportunity for high school juniors, allowing students to work in the House of Representatives alongside the nation's leaders.
Positions in the House Page Program are highly competitive. The students attend Page School, five days a week, starting each day at 6:45 a.m., prior to the convening of the House. Currently, there are 72 House pages, 48 of whom were selected by Republicans and 24 by Democrats.
Unfortunately, accusations of sexual predatory behavior are not new to the halls of Congress. In the history of the House Page Program, we know of at least three scandals, and that's three too many. I'm saddened and embarrassed that this could take place in the halls of Congress.
We have a responsibility to find out all of the facts of the case and prevent something like this from ever happening again. Some members of Congress have already made calls that we suspend the page program, and others have demanded we put new reforms in place.
If we are going to continue with the House Page Program, we must be able to assure the parents of the children of America that they can send their children to Washington and they will be as safe in the halls of Congress as they would be in the halls of their own homes.
I am pleased the Speaker has called for an immediate Justice Department investigation into these e-mail exchanges. At the conclusion of the investigations, I believe we will see the House Page program remain an important educational opportunity for high school students, and we will have put into place an even added layer of protection to ensure this never happens again.
My staff and I work for you. If we can ever be of service, do not hesitate to call my office toll free at 1-800-288-8721 or visit my website http://bonner.house.gov.
Jo Bonner is a U.S. congressman. His column appears weekly.