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Report: House GOP leaders neglected to protect pages

Story Highlights

NEW: Former page calls the report "a slap on the wrist to Republicans"
• Ethics panel: Failure was "danger to House pages and to integrity of institution"
• No one will be reprimanded because no rules broken, panel says
• Panel: Many aware of allegations, remained "willfully ignorant" to consequences
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The House ethics committee said Friday that Republican leaders were negligent by not protecting teenage pages from possible improper advances from Rep. Mark Foley but broke no rules in handling the allegations.

No one will be reprimanded, according to a report released by the committee, prompting one former page to call the committee's conclusions "just a slap on the wrist to Republicans."

"What's concerning to me is that no one in particular was held accountable," said Zack Hall, who served as a page in 2004. "It just continues to show us that no one wants to hold anybody else accountable for anything that goes on on Capitol Hill." (Watch how "doing the right thing is the only acceptable option" Video)

Foley, a six-term congressman representing Florida's 16th District on the lower east coast, resigned September 29 after it was revealed he had sent improper e-mails and other Internet messages to one or more former male pages.

"In all, a pattern of conduct was exhibited among many individuals to remain willfully ignorant of the potential consequences of former Rep. Foley's conduct with respect to pages," the panel's report said.

"Almost no one followed up adequately on the limited actions they did take," the report said. (Read the full report -- PDF)

The report said the panel could find no evidence Foley sent sexually explicit messages to active pages, only that he initiated contact while they were pages and the exchanges turned lurid after they had left the program.

It further suggested "Foley may have been using the page program to in part at least identify possible future recipients of graphic communications."

If Foley were still a congressman, the report said, a "substantial basis" would exist to find him in violation of House rules.

The report said those who knew of the exchanges may have feared that "raising the issue too aggressively might have risked exposing Rep. Foley's homosexuality."

A request by a page's family to keep the matter private also may have played a role , the report said.

Through his attorney, Foley declined to testify before the committee, citing the criminal investigations against him and his constitutional right to refuse to testify against himself, according to the report.

The findings

In addition to e-mails, the report said, Foley sent instant messages containing "sexually explicit and salacious language" to one or more former congressional pages, and several Republican lawmakers and staffers knew of the correspondences before they were made public.

"The failure to exhaust all reasonable efforts to call attention to potential misconduct involving a member and House page[s] is not merely the exercise of poor judgment; it is a present danger to House pages and to the integrity of the institution of the House," according to the report's executive summary.

The report said some who knew of the allegations shifted responsibility and some declined to probe too deeply into the matter.

"Others tried repeatedly to elevate the matter, but encountered obstacles in the chain of command," the report said.

At question before the ethics panel was what and when Republican leaders knew about Foley's actions and how they reacted to the accusations once they surfaced.

Evidence showed that concerns began to arise about Foley's interactions with pages or other young male staff members shortly after he took office in 1995, according to the document.

Jeff Trandahl, who served in several capacities in the House clerk's office, testified to the committee he repeatedly warned Foley about his conduct with the pages on numerous occasions, one of which was before he became House clerk in 1999. Trandahl left the job in November 2005.

On one occasion, Trandahl said he asked Foley to "maintain that professional distance" from the pages.

And while Trandahl testified he considered Foley a "nuisance" but not a threat to the pages, he was concerned "a closeted gay guy" was putting himself in one-on-one situations with the youths.

"My counseling to him was, one, you don't need to be in the middle of this community of children, and two, you are creating an enormous political risk for yourself," the report quoted Trandahl as saying.

Trandahl also testified he told Kirk Fordham, who was then Foley's chief of staff, "a lot more than 10 times" about his concerns.

Hastert's chief of staff

Fordham told the ethics panel that at least three years ago he asked top GOP aides, including Speaker Dennis Hastert's chief of staff, Scott Palmer, to intervene to stop Foley's inappropriate behavior.

Palmer quickly and flatly denied Fordham's account when it was reported in October, but according to the panel's report, Palmer said he did not remember it.

"I've tried to visualize that conversation, and I just can't visualize it. At the time, it's hard to imagine I would forget it," Palmer said, according to the report. "I believe it didn't happen. I don't have any recollection of it."

The report concluded: "The weight of the evidence supports a conclusion that Kirk Fordham talked to Scott Palmer about Fordham's concerns about Rep. Foley's conduct, and that Palmer later talked to Rep. Foley."

Fordham also testified about an alleged episode several years ago in which Foley was accused of being drunk and trying to enter the page dormitory.

The report said several witnesses mentioned such an incident, but that no one actually saw it and there was no evidence to confirm it.

Hastert released a statement commending the committee on its "diligent and hard work."

"The investigative subcommittee uncovered no evidence that the IMs were provided to, or were possessed by, any House member, officer, or employee, the press, or any political organization prior to September 28 and 29, 2006," Hastert's statement said.

The statement did not mention the e-mails.

Incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, issued a statement saying it was "deeply troubling" the committee determined House leaders were negligent in protecting pages.

Following his resignation, Foley entered a rehabilitation facility for alcohol abuse. His seat was taken by Democrat Timothy Mahoney in last month's midterm elections.

Foley's attorney, David Roth, has denied the former congressman ever engaged in sexual activity with minors.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement is continuing to investigate whether Foley sent inappropriate e-mails and other communications to pages or minors, actions that could violate state laws.

CNN's Dana Bash and Paul Courson contributed to this report.

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Rep. Mark Foley resigned in September after his Internet exchanges with former congressional pages surfaced.

REPORT'S RECOMMENDATIONS

• The structure and management of the page program should be reviewed to determine whether changes made in the 1980s are sufficient to protect pages' well-being and safety.
• The board overseeing the program should meet regularly.
• The House should consider placing equal numbers of Republicans and Democrats on the board to avoid possible political influence.
• The clerk of the House should be able to bring issues directly to the board and the speaker.
• All House members should be educated about the page program.
• All House members and employees must pursue any allegations of improper interactions with pages, regardless of whether those involved are of the same sex or not.
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