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FBI criticized over handling of Foley matter

WASHINGTON—The FBI—which warns parents on its Web site about "individuals who attempt to sexually exploit children" via the Internet—should have sounded alarms over questionable e-mails sent to a former teenage page by disgraced former Rep. Mark Foley, concluded an inspector general's report released Monday.

The bureau should have interviewed the page or alerted the House page program or, at the very least, told the whistleblower agency that provided it with the e-mails that it was declining to investigate, said the 31-page report by Justice Department Inspector General Glenn Fine.

"We believe the FBI should have considered taking some steps to ensure that any minors in the congressional page program were not at risk of predatory behavior by Foley," the report said. "We believe that the e-mails should have raised enough concerns to warrant some action."

The report also found that FBI officials misled reporters about the group that provided the e-mails. The FBI, it said, suggested to reporters that its decision not to investigate was partly because the group gave it e-mails that were "heavily redacted" and that it refused to further cooperate.

But the report showed that Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington provided e-mails that had the name of the page and of a House employee to whom the e-mail was sent. The report chastised the FBI for not telling CREW that it wasn't going to investigate the matter, suggesting that CREW might have pursued it further.

The FBI, in a statement issued late Monday, noted that the inspector general's report concluded that the agency had "acted within the range of its discretion" in not opening a criminal investigation. And it said that the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Columbia later reviewed the same e-mails "and agreed that no further investigation was warranted."

The FBI noted that the report found no evidence that the bureau's decision not to investigate was influenced by the fact that Foley was a member of Congress. The FBI opened an investigation after it was revealed that Foley had engaged in sexually suggestive instant messaging with teenage pages.

The FBI promised to "carefully examine" the report to see whether policy changes are needed.

CREW executive director Melanie Sloan welcomed the report but suggested it mirrors a pattern of agencies turning a blind eye to Foley's behavior. Amid criticism, the House of Representatives revised the Page Board last week to avoid future problems.

Foley, a Florida Republican, resigned Sept. 29 after sexually explicit instant messages he exchanged with other pages surfaced. He then checked into a rehab facility for treatment for alcoholism. He later said that he was gay and that he had been molested by a priest when he was young.

Foley's resignation came several months after CREW sent copies of e-mails to the FBI. The e-mails didn't contain any sexually explicit material, but the report suggested that it was enough for the FBI to act.

"By forwarding the e-mails to the FBI for investigation, CREW stands out as the only party in this sordid affair to have done the right thing from the first instance," Sloan said. "In marked contrast, not only did the FBI fail to investigate the possible sexual abuse of minors by a sitting member of Congress, the bureau then tried to cover up its shocking inaction by blaming CREW."

The FBI told investigators that the e-mails were reviewed first by the FBI's public corruption squad, which turned them over to a unit that investigates crimes against children. That unit reviewed them and sent them along to the cyber-crimes squad, which investigates online sexual exploitation of children.

The chief of the cyber-crimes squad told investigators that while she found the messages "odd," she didn't see any evidence of "criminal wrongdoing." She decided there was no need for further investigation.

But the inspector general's report said 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."

The inspector general noted that the language in the e-mails fell within the type of behavior that the FBI warns against in "A Parent's Guide to Internet Safety," which is available on the agency's Web site.

Foley engaged in conversations that "at a minimum could be described as unusual between an adult in a position of authority and a juvenile," the report said.

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(c) 2007, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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