But Democrats said Sunday that their Republican counterparts should have kept Democrats in the loop – and now must conduct a thorough investigation.
Reynolds, R-N.Y., was told about e-mails sent by Rep. Mark Foley and is now defending himself from Democratic accusations that he did too little.after ABC News questioned him about the e-mails to a former congressional page and about sexually suggestive instant messages to other pages.
"The improper communications between Congressman Mark Foley and former House Congressional pages is unacceptable and abhorrent. It is an obscene breach of trust," Hastert, R-Ill., Majority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Majority Whip Roy Blunt, R-Mo., said in a written statement Saturday evening. "His immediate resignation must now be followed by the full weight of the criminal justice system."
On Friday, Boehner told The Washington Post he had learned about Foley's e-mails in late spring and that he told Hastert soon after. Boehner said Hastert appeared to know already of the concerns surrounding Foley. However, shortly after his interview with the Post, Boehner told the newspaper he was unsure if he had spoken with Hastert.
The House leaders said it is their duty to ensure House pages are safe. They said they are creating a toll-free hot line for pages and their families to call to confidentially report any incidents, and will consider adopting new rules on communications between lawmakers and pages.
Read the statement from Dennis Hastert's office
Read Rep. Foley's E-mail Exchange (from the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington)
The boy who received the e-mails was 16 in the summer of 2005 when he worked in Congress as a page. After the boy returned to his Louisiana home, the congressman e-mailed him. The teenager thought the messages were inappropriate, particularly one in which Foley asked the teen to send a picture of himself.
The teen's family contacted their congressman, Rep. Rodney Alexander, R-La., who then discussed the problem with Reynolds sometime this spring.
"Rodney Alexander brought to my attention the existence of e-mails between Mark Foley and a former page of Mr. Alexander's," Reynolds, chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, said in a written statement Saturday.
Hastert said he does not remember talking to Reynolds about the Foley e-mails, but did not dispute Reynolds' account.
"While the speaker does not explicitly recall this conversation, he has no reason to dispute Congressman Reynolds' recollection that he reported to him on the problem and its resolution," Hastert's aides said in a preliminary report on the matter issued Saturday.
On Friday night, Hastert spokesman Ron Bonjean said the top House Republican had not known about the allegations.
Saturday's report includes a lengthy timeline detailing when they first learned of the worrisome e-mail in the fall of 2005, after a staffer for Alexander told Hastert's office the family wanted Foley to stop contacting their son. Alexander's staffer did not share the contents of the e-mail, saying it was not sexual but "over-friendly," the report says.
Hastert's aides referred the matter to the Clerk of the House, and "mindful of the sensitivity of the parent's wishes to protect their child's privacy and believing that they had promptly reported what they knew to the proper authorities," they did not discuss it with others in Hastert's office — including, apparently, their boss.
After the issue was referred to the clerk, it was passed along to the congressman who oversees the page program, Rep. John Shimkus, R-Ill.
Shimkus has said he learned about the e-mail exchange in late 2005 and took immediate action to investigate.
He said Foley told him it was an innocent exchange. Shimkus said he warned Foley not to have any more contact with the teenager and to respect other pages.
Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., faulted the House GOP leadership for not acting sooner. "It's outrageous," he said, citing reports indicating they were told months ago. "We have an obligation to protect these young pages... It really makes me nervous that they might have tried to cover this up."
He called for a quick investigation before the November elections to "hold people accountable," but said there was no need for an outside investigation. "I think it's something the ethics committee can handle... It's something that can be handled internally."
Foley's former Republican colleagues called for others with knowledge of the e-mails to be made accountable.
"Anyone who was involved in the chain of information should come forward and tell when they were told, what they were told and what they did with the information when they got it," Rep. Peter King of New York told the New York Times. King added that it was a "dark day" for Congress.
Rep. Christopher Shays of Connecticut, said "If they knew or should have known the extent of this problem, they should not serve in leadership," Mr. Shays told the Times.
Democrats charged Reynolds did far too little and said more digging should be done.
"Congressman Reynolds' inaction in the face of such a serious situation is very troubling, and raises important questions about whether there was an attempt to cover up criminal activity involving a minor to keep it from coming to light before Election Day," said Democratic National Committee spokeswoman Karen Finney.
New York DemocratsReynolds blasted the congressman, saying they call into question the Republican's values.
"Mr. Reynolds knew about these allegedly inappropriate e-mails from a fellow congressman to a minor for months and didn't lift a finger," said Blake Zeff, a spokesman for the state Democrats.