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Hastert, GOP stand together amid Foley scandal

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Four days after Rep. Mark Foley resigned amid allegations that he had inappropriate correspondences with teenage congressional pages, a conservative newspaper called for the House speaker to follow suit Tuesday.

An editorial on The Washington Times Web site said Rep. Dennis Hastert, R-Illinois, should "do the only right thing and resign his speakership at once."

"Either he was grossly negligent for not taking the red flags fully into account and ordering a swift investigation, for not even remembering the order of events leading up to last week's revelations -- or he deliberately looked the other way in hopes that a brewing scandal would simply blow away," the paper wrote. (Watch Hastert say he didn't initially see the inappropriate e-mails until ABC published them -- 2:25 Video)

Several top Republican leaders, including President Bush, have rushed to Hastert's defense.

House Majority Leader John Boehner also said Hastert should keep his seat, but acknowledged that the Foley matter was Hastert's responsibility.

"My position is it's in his corner, it's his responsibility," Boehner, R-Ohio, told WLW radio in Cincinnati, Ohio. "The clerk of the House who runs the page program, the page board -- all report to the speaker. And I believe it had been dealt with."

The FBI, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the House Ethics Committee are investigating Foley's conduct -- and whether there was any attempt to cover it up.

In a letter to the editor of The Washington Times, Boehner reiterated that Hastert should not resign.

"One thing is certain: No one in the leadership, including Speaker Hastert, had any knowledge of the warped and sexually explicit instant messages that were revealed by ABC News last Friday," Boehner wrote.

"Had Speaker Hastert or anyone else in our leadership known about Mr. Foley's despicable conduct, I'm confident the speaker would have moved to expel Mr. Foley immediately and turn him over to the appropriate authorities," he added.

Bush also expressed support for Hastert, calling him a "father, a teacher, a coach" and a man who "wants to ensure these children on Capitol Hill are protected."

A spokesman for Hastert said the speaker would not step down.

"Mark Foley has resigned his seat in dishonor and the criminal investigation of this matter will continue," said Ron Bonjean. "The speaker is working every day on ensuring the House is a safe, productive environment for members, staff and all those who are employed by the institution." (Watch GOP leaders lash out at Foley -- 3:07 Video)

A GOP aide said House Republican leaders held a conference call Monday night with about 100 members, answering questions and reassuring them that there was an investigation into the situation. There were no calls for Hastert to resign, the aide said.

Rep. Patrick McHenry, R-North Carolina, said he spoke to Hastert on Tuesday and the speaker is not going to resign.

"He was not aware of the instant messages until the rest of us were aware of it. And that's where it stands. He reacted appropriately last week. I trust the speaker," McHenry said. "After talking with him, I have full faith that he's doing everything in his power to get things back on track."

A ploy by the Democrats?

In addition to expressing his support for Hastert, Boehner also wrote in his letter to the editor that the timing of the allegations against Foley was odd.

"We also need to know why these messages surfaced only last week, on the final day of legislative business before the November elections," the House majority leader wrote.

"If this evidence was withheld for political purposes, one can only speculate as to how many additional children may have been endangered before this information was finally revealed," he wrote. (Watch what some former pages have to say about Foley -- 1:36 Video)

Republican Reps. John Shimkus of Illinois and Tom Reynolds of New York have acknowledged that they knew about an "overly friendly" exchange of e-mails in 2005 between Foley and a former male page from Louisiana, which were not sexually explicit.

Reynolds said he took his concerns to Hastert, but Hastert said he doesn't recall the conversation.

"If he did, he brought it in with a whole stack of things," the speaker said.

Hastert also insisted that he and the House GOP leadership only became aware of the sexually explicit instant messages allegedly sent in 2003 between Foley and a former teenage page last Friday, when ABC News first reported on them.

He added that if Foley had not resigned, "I would have demanded his expulsion from the House of Representatives."

Rep. Ray LaHood, R-Illinois, said he believes the speaker when he says he doesn't remember the conversation with Reynolds, but "the speaker's staff let him down."

"They knew about it. They should have made sure the speaker knew about it and had him talk to Foley," he said. "This is very serious. I think the fact that the speaker's staff did not clue him in on what is going on is a big failure of leadership on their part. If this were my staff, heads would roll."

With just five weeks before midterm elections, GOP leaders are trying to stem the fallout from the Foley matter. The scandal threatened to hurt the GOP, with control of the House up for grabs in November.

Florida state party officials Monday chose state Rep. Joe Negron to replace Foley on the ballot. Despite the controversy, Negron expressed confidence that he can win the seat.

"This is a 60-percent-for-Jeb-Bush House district," Negron said.

The reverberations are being felt well outside Washington and Florida, as GOP candidates campaign ahead of the November 7 elections to try to keep control of Congress.

Rep. Jim Gerlach, R-Pennsylvania, who is in one of the toughest races this year, postponed a fundraiser with Boehner last night, according to his spokesman John Gentzel.

"There are a lot of unresolved issues about the Foley situation. It would have been inappropriate to move forward with the fundraiser last night," Gentzel said.

Gerlach also is giving $1,000 Foley's political action committee gave to his campaign to the "Crime Victims Center of Chester County," the spokesman said. (Watch how Foley pushed for laws to protect children -- 2:13 Video)

Other Republican representatives who say they are planning to donate to charities or return contributions from Foley include Rep. Nancy Johnson of California, Rep. Clay Shaw of Florida, Rep. Geoffrey Davis of Kentucky, Sen. Norm Coleman of Minnesota, Rep. Deborah Price of Ohio, Rep. Curtis Weldon of Pennsylvania and Sen. George Allen of Virginia.

Foley, a six-term congressman and co-chairman of the Missing and Exploited Children's Caucus, was undergoing treatment for alcoholism and mental illness, his attorney said Monday.

The attorney, David Roth, told reporters Tuesday that a clergyman molested Foley when he was a teenager. He also said that Foley was not a pedophile and had never had sexual contact with a minor. (Watch Roth explain how Foley was a victim of child molestation -- 2:07 Video)

CNN's Dana Bash, Deirdre Walsh and Andrea Koppel contributed to this report.

House Speaker Dennis Hastert's actions in the case have been defended by President Bush and other GOP leaders.


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