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Speaker was told about Foley e-mails, GOP member says

Hastert does not dispute he may have been notified

WASHINGTON -- House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Republican of Illinois, was notified early this year of inappropriate e-mails from Representative Mark Foley, Republican of Florida, to a 16-year-old male page, a top GOP House member said yesterday.

The member, Representative Thomas Reynolds of New York, contradicted the speaker's assertions that he learned of concerns about Foley only last week.

Hastert did not dispute the statement by Reynolds, and the speaker's office said some of Hastert's top aides knew last year that Foley had been ordered to cease contact with the youth and to treat all pages respectfully.

Reynolds, chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, became the second senior House Republican to say that Hastert has known of Foley's contacts for months, prompting Democratic attacks about the GOP leadership's inaction. Foley, 52, abruptly resigned his seat Friday after the e-mails became public.

House majority leader John Boehner, Republican of Ohio, said Friday that he learned in late spring of inappropriate e-mails that Foley sent to the Louisiana youth, and that he promptly told Hastert, who appeared to already know of the concerns. Hours later, Boehner said he could not be sure he had spoken with Hastert.

Florida Republicans planned to meet as soon as tomorrow to find a replacement in Foley's district. Because Republicans must find a new candidate six weeks before the election and ballots are already printed, Democrats found themselves suddenly competitive in a district where Foley had been considered nearly certain to win.

The Democratic candidate, Tim Mahoney, said yesterday that Republican leaders should have investigated fully when they learned about the e-mails.

``It looks to me that it was more important to hold onto a seat and to hold onto power than to take care of our children," Mahoney said. `` I think that's what's wrong with Washington."

Senator John F. Kerry, Democrat of Massachusetts, was in Florida yesterday to raise funds for Democratic candidates for governor and Congress. Asked about Foley's resignation, Kerry said, ``It speaks for itself. Every parent in America is disgusted and disturbed by it."

Only after Reynolds's definitive statement did Hastert concede yesterday that he may have been notified of some of the questionable activities of Foley, who had cochaired the House caucus on missing and exploited children.

Hastert said, however, that he knew nothing of the sexually explicit instant messages that became public Friday . The messages apparently were exchanged with youths other than the 16-year-old.

Hastert's aides learned in the fall of 2005 only of e-mail exchanges that House officials eventually deemed ``over-friendly" with the Louisiana teenager, the speaker's office said yesterday.

``While the speaker does not explicitly recall this conversation" with Reynolds, the statement said, ``he has no reason to dispute Congressman Reynolds's recollection that he reported to him on the problem and its resolution."

Boehner and Reynolds said their offices learned of the Foley e-mails months ago from Representative Rodney Alexander, Republican of Louisiana, who sponsored the page from his Northeast Louisiana district.

``Despite the fact that I had not seen the e-mails in question, and Mr. Alexander told me that the parents didn't want the matter pursued, I told the speaker of the conversation Mr. Alexander had with me," Reynolds said.

GOP leaders have said they referred the matter promptly to Representative John Shimkus, Republican of Illinois, who heads a three-lawmaker panel that oversees the House page program.

Shimkus questioned Foley, but at that time, he had seen only suspiciously friendly e-mails, not the explicit instant messages revealed recently. In the e-mails, for example, Foley asked the page for a picture of himself.

The youth reportedly told an associate that he considered the request to be ``sick," but Foley convinced Shimkus that the exchanges were innocent, Shimkus and Republican leaders said.

Republicans appeared to have kept the matter tightly under wraps. Representative Dale Kildee of Michigan, the only Democratic lawmaker on the page board, said yesterday, ``I was never informed of the allegations about Mr. Foley's inappropriate communications with a House page, and I was never involved in any inquiry."

Material from the Associated Press was included in this report.

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