Report faults FBI for mishandling page scandal

January 23, 2007|By Richard B. Schmitt | Richard B. Schmitt,LOS ANGELES TIMES

WASHINGTON -- The Justice Department's inspector general admonished the FBI yesterday for its handling of the page scandal involving former Rep. Mark Foley, saying the bureau failed to follow up on suggestive e-mails between the Florida Republican and a former male page and gave "inaccurate" statements to the public about the case.

The inspector general's report was triggered by a complaint from the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, which had sent the FBI copies of e-mails between Foley and a former page last summer. The copies were sent two months before the scandal became public and forced Foley to resign after a series of sexually explicit messages surfaced.

The FBI dismissed the early e-mails, the inspector general found, because agents did not believe they showed evidence of criminal wrongdoing. The FBI later launched an investigation, which is pending.

In the e-mails, Foley beckons a former page to e-mail him a picture of himself and asks what he might like for his birthday. He also comments about another page being "in really great shape" and seeming "much older than his age."

The e-mails also included complaints about Foley from a former page who told a House employee that Foley's e-mails had "freaked me out" and called the content of his messages "sick."

The inspector general found that the tip was handled by a senior supervisory agent in the FBI's cyber-crimes division who found the messages "odd" but not indicative of any criminal wrongdoing.

The report found that the decision not to investigate "fell within the range of discretion" afforded supervisory agents and "did not constitute misconduct." But the inspector general also found the messages "at a minimum" to be "unusual" and said that the FBI should have taken some action.

"The e-mails provided enough troubling indications on their face, particularly given the position of trust and authority that Foley held with respect to House pages, that a better practice for the FBI would have been to take at least some follow-up," the inspector general found.

The report also pointed out that three of the eight states from which the e-mails were sent or received would have made sexual conduct between Foley and a 16- year-old, the minimum age for pages, a crime.

The report also criticized the bureau for public comments it made about the complaint filed by CREW, the watchdog group.

Justice officials said at the time that the group had provided "heavily redacted" e-mails and refused to provide information about the source of the e-mails, indicating that was the reason the FBI did not pursue an investigation earlier.

"The OIG concluded that such statements were not accurate. The e-mails were not heavily redacted and the evidence showed that the FBI did not seek additional information from CREW," the report found.

"The OIG was unable to determine who was responsible for making the inaccurate statements," the report said, and concluded that the inaccuracies were caused by "a misinterpretation of the description of events that was disseminated within the FBI."

Richard B. Schmitt writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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