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GOP House leaders call for criminal investigation of Foley

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The top three Republicans in the House assailed Rep. Mark Foley Saturday over his e-mails to a teenage male page and said his resignation was not enough.

Calling the incident "an obscene breach of trust," the congressmen released a statement saying, "[Foley's] immediate resignation must now be followed by the full weight of the criminal justice system."

"The improper communications between Congressman Mark Foley and former House congressional pages is unacceptable and abhorrent. It is an obscene breach of trust," read the statement issued by Majority Leader John Boehner of Ohio, House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert of Illinois and Majority Whip Roy Blunt of Missouri.

Earlier, the chairman of the House Page Board said Foley "was not honest about his conduct," referring to e-mail exchanges that a former page has called "sick, sick, sick."

The House leaders said in their statement that they had asked the House Page Board to review the incident and to propose measures to ensure the program is safe. They also have set up a toll-free number for pages and their relatives to confidentially report incidents, the statement said.

After the e-mails were publicized, ABC News released instant text messages allegedly sent by the congressman to other teenage male pages.

In them Foley allegedly said he wanted to take the teen's clothes off and allegedly asked the page if he made him "a little horny," ABC News reported, saying other exchanges were too graphic to make public.

Foley, a Republican, served his district in Florida for six terms. He abruptly resigned from Congress on Friday, apologizing "for letting down my family and the people of Florida I have had the privilege to represent."

The House voted unanimously Friday to launch an investigation.

Foley, who co-chaired the Congressional Missing and Exploited Children's Caucus, did not mention the messages that brought him down. (Watch how his resignation has sent shockwaves through the capital -- 2:54 Video)

The lawmaker who oversees the page program, Rep. John Shimkus, a Republican from Illinois, said that he learned about Foley's e-mails in late 2005 and "took immediate action to investigate the matter."

He was notified by Rep. Rodney Alexander, a Republican from Louisiana, in whose office the page had worked. Alexander forwarded the e-mails to the clerk of the House.

"We ordered Congressman Foley to cease all contact with this former House page to avoid even the appearance of impropriety," Shimkus said in a statement Friday.

"It has become clear to me today, based on information I only now have learned, that Congressman Foley was not honest about his conduct."

Shimkus said he is working to "fully review this incident and determine what actions need to be taken."

'Simply acting as a mentor'

Shimkus recalled that when he initially questioned Foley about the e-mails, the congressman assured him that he was "simply acting as a mentor" and that "nothing inappropriate had occurred."

Foley said he was e-mailing to find out if the teenager was OK after Hurricane Katrina and "wanted a photo to see that the former page was all right," Shimkus said.

Foley was advised "to be especially mindful of his conduct," Shimkus said.

"And he assured us he would do so," Shimkus' statement added. "I received no subsequent complaints about his behavior nor was I ever made aware of any additional e-mails."

In his e-mails, Foley purportedly asked the page to send a picture of himself to the congressman, asked the teen what he wanted for his birthday and made comments about another former page in which Foley allegedly said he acted "much older than his age" and was "in really great shape." (More details)

Some GOP leaders knew of contact

An aide to Rep. Tom Reynolds, the New York congressman who heads the National Republican Campaign Committee, said he knew about the matter a year ago.

The GOP panel coordinates election efforts for House Republicans, who now must find a candidate to replace Foley in Florida's 16th District, six weeks before the election.

Boehner, an Ohio Republican, learned about the contacts from Louisiana Rep. Alexander in the spring, said Boehner's spokesman, Kevin Madden.

"It was Congressman Alexander's opinion that the contact was not of a professional nature," Madden said.

Boehner blocked a vote Friday on a resolution offered by Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi asking the House Ethics Committee to begin a preliminary investigation into Foley's conduct and the GOP leadership's response to it.

The California Democrat's resolution would have started an investigation of "when the Republican leadership was notified and what corrective action was taken," according to her statement.

Instead, Boehner made a motion that the Foley matter be sent to the House Ethics Committee, which passed 409-0.

Details emerge of e-mails

Foley's resignation was prompted by concerns that other potentially damaging information might surface, including exchanges with other pages that were more graphic, GOP sources said.

ABC News reported Friday details of three exchanges of instant messages between someone with the screen name "Maf54" and teenage male pages. ABC identified "Maf54" as Foley, whose initials are M.A.F., and whose birth year was 1954.

In one of those exchanges, Maf54 advises the teen to "strip down." In another, when the teen says he's wearing a T-shirt and shorts, Maf54 replies, "Love to slip them off of you." And in a third, Maf54 asks, "Do I make you a little horny?"

GOP scrambles to find replacement

Foley, 52, who is single, had been favored to win re-election in the Republican-leaning district. Under Florida law, his name will remain on the ballot, but Republicans will have seven days to select a new candidate who will receive any votes cast for Foley.

One name being mentioned by party leaders was state Rep. Joe Negron from Stuart.

The campaign of Tim Mahoney, the Democratic candidate in the district, denied having any role in the disclosure of Foley's e-mails. Mahoney made a brief statement to reporters Friday afternoon but did not answer any questions.

"The challenges facing Congressmen Foley make this a difficult time for the people of the 16th District. The families of all those involved are in our thoughts and in our prayers," Mahoney said.

The page program, which brings young people from around the country to work on Capitol Hill, came under intense scrutiny in 1983, after two lawmakers -- Rep. Gerry Studds, a Massachusetts Democrat, and Rep. Dan Crane, an Illinois Republican -- were censured following their admission they had consensual sexual relationships with 17-year-old pages.

Neither lawmaker resigned, but Crane was defeated for re-election in 1984. Studds survived the scandal and continued to serve in the House until retiring in 1996.

CNN's Dana Bash and Kimberly Segal contributed to this report.


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