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Key Republican says GOP mishandled Foley matter

WASHINGTON -- A congressman who is a key figure in the House page scandal said yesterday that Republicans have mishandled the matter.

``I think there's stuff that everybody would have done differently" in hindsight, said Representative John M. Shimkus, Republican of Illinois, after he testified for more than three hours before the House Ethics Committee. The panel is investigating former representative Mark Foley's sexually tinged Internet communications with teenage pages over several years.

Shimkus chairs the board that oversees the House page program, and he intervened last fall to stop Foley from e-mailing a former congressional page who considered the contacts inappropriate. Shimkus said he voluntarily testified before the House investigators to help them uncover ``who knew what, when, and where."

Shimkus kept the two other House Page Board members, including the panel's sole Democrat, in the dark when he confronted Foley last fall. He did so, he says, to follow the wishes of the boy's parents, who wanted the matter to remain private and wanted Foley to stop sending the boy overly friendly e-mails.

Democrats have criticized Shimkus for not informing Representative Dale E. Kildee, Democrat of Michigan, a longtime member of the Page Board, after learning of the incident involving Foley.

Shimkus told reporters that, in retrospect, he wishes he had handled the episode differently.

``Having 20/20 hindsight, a lot of things would have been done differently," he said.

A four-member ethics investigating panel, operating in closed session, wrapped up the first week of its inquiry. It has been hearing witnesses with knowledge of how Republicans handled several alarms raised about Foley's conduct over the past five years. The Florida Republican resigned Sept. 29 after he was confronted with other, more sexually explicit instant messages sent to other former male pages, beyond the episode Shimkus testified about.

Shimkus said he had no earlier indication of problems involving Foley and pages.

The Ethics Committee is also investigating whether the disgraced Florida Republican tried to enter the page dorm while drunk several years ago.

It was sexually explicit instant messages sent in 2003 to a former page that prompted Foley to resign after being confronted with them by ABC News.

No House member has claimed any prior knowledge of those explicit messages.

It was the milder e-mails to a former page from Louisiana that prompted Shimkus, along with then-clerk of the House, Jeff Trandahl, to confront Foley about his behavior in the fall of 2005.

Shimkus has said it was the first time he learned Foley was too friendly with pages.

Next week, the ethics panel is expected to hear from Representative Rodney Alexander, Republican of Louisiana, whose office reported the ``over-friendly" e-mails to staff aides of House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Republican of Illinois, last fall.

Majority leader John A. Boehner, Republican of Ohio, also has been summoned to appear before the panel.

Boehner and House GOP campaign chairman Representative Thomas M. Reynolds of New York discussed the Foley matter with Alexander earlier this year.

Alexander has said that he raised the Foley e-mails with Boehner after being contacted by the news media about them.

Boehner and Reynolds say they raised the issue with Hastert, but the speaker says he doesn't recall such conversations.

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