Republican lawmakers and aides left male interns vulnerable to Rep. Mark Foley's improper sexual advances even though the first concerns surfaced more than a decade ago, the ethics committee said Friday in its report into an election-year scandal that convulsed the House of Representatives.
The Republicans lost control of the House in last month's elections in which several strategists said the virtual sex scandal played a part.
The committee said one witness testified he warned the head of the board overseeing the program for interns, known as pages, Rep. John Shimkus, a year ago that Foley was a "ticking time bomb" who had been confronted repeatedly.
House Republican leader Dennis Hastert likely was told about inappropriate e-mails written by Foley last spring, even though he has said he doesn't recall the conversations, investigators concluded.
The panel said it found no evidence that any current lawmakers or aides violated any rules, and recommended no sanctions in the case that cost Foley his seat in Congress and contributed to his party's defeat at the polls in last month's midterm elections.
But it said it discovered a pattern of conduct on the part of many individuals "to remain willfully ignorant of the potential consequences" of Foley's conduct.
And it singles out two key leaders — John Boehner of Ohio and Tom Reynolds of New York — for sticking their heads in the sand, CBS News correspondent Gloria Borger reports.
"Neither ... showed any curiosity regarding why a former young page would have been made uncomfortable by emails from Rep. Foley," the report read.
Speculating on the reason for their reluctance to act, the committee said:
Read the report. (91 pages)
"Some may have been concerned that raising the issue too aggressively might have risked exposing Rep. Foley's homosexuality.... There is some evidence that political considerations played a role in decisions that were made by persons in both parties."
The committee interviewed numerous witnesses, including Hastert, his top aides and other lawmakers.
The man who sparked the scandal was not among them, though. Foley received a subpoena, but his lawyer notified the committee the former lawmaker would invoke his constitutional rights not to incriminate himself if compelled to testify. The committee dropped the matter.
Foley hurriedly resigned his seat Sept. 29 after the existence of sexually explicit computer messages sent to teenage pages came to light.
He quickly entered an alcoholic treatment program.
Borger reports that the 91-page document is a case study of how problems — with serious political consequences — can be swept under the rug. Foley's issues with pages go back a decade, and he was warned repeatedly by high-level staffers about what they called "terrible perceptions."
One of those staffers is Kirk Fordham, Foley's former chief of staff.
"I think the report points out where the breakdowns occurred. I think there are some people that are going to look back and wish that they had acted different," Fordham said.
Authorities in Foley's home state of Florida have opened a criminal investigation into whether Foley broke any laws related to his communications with the teens. Federal authorities are also investigating.
On balance, investigators said evidence supports the conclusion that Hastert's top aide had been told about Foley's conduct in late 2002 or early 2003. The aide, Scott Palmer, flatly denied to reporters that he was told that long ago. In testimony to the committee, he said, "I believe it didn't happen. I don't have any recollection of it."
The report said another of Hastert's aides, Ted Van Der Meid, "should have done more to learn about the e-mails and how they had been handled," in view of earlier warnings he had received about Foley's conduct.
Overall, the evidence shows that "concerns began to arise about Rep. Foley's interactions with pages or other young male staff members" shortly after he took office in 1995. Two aides reported raising concerns with him several times.