Foley a Victim of Sex Abuse, Attorney Says

Times Staff Writers

Former Rep. Mark Foley, who resigned Friday amid reports that he had sent sexually explicit messages to House pages, was molested by a clergyman when he was boy, the Florida Republican’s attorney said Tuesday.

But Foley has never had sexual contact with a minor, the lawyer said in a hastily called news conference in West Palm Beach, Fla. “There was absolutely never any inappropriate sexual contact with any minor,” David Roth said.

The disclosure by Roth followed more reports by ABC News of instant messages that Foley allegedly sent to a page in 2003 in which he appeared to be trying to arrange a liaison with the teenage boy.


Roth said the revelation that Foley had been molested was simply “part of his recovery.” The 52-year-old former lawmaker has checked himself into what Roth said was a clinic devoted to treating alcoholism and mental illness.

But Tuesday’s news seemed to only complicate the scandal surrounding the six-term congressman. Roth provided almost no detail about the sexual abuse, which he said occurred when Foley was between 13 and 15 years old. Foley, who is Catholic, and his family moved from the Boston area to Florida when Foley was very young.

And because of the way the District of Columbia’s criminal code is written, Roth’s insistence that Foley had never had sexual contact with “a minor” did not rule out the possibility that Foley had some kind of sexual contact with pages. Unlike some states, where a minor is defined as someone younger than 18, the district puts the age that someone can consent to sex at 16.

That distinction also could affect the ability of federal authorities to prosecute Foley under laws designed to prevent adults from soliciting minors for sex over the Internet, said Orin Kerr, a George Washington University law professor and expert on Internet crime.

“The question is what age Foley thought the boy was. If the age of consent is 16, did Foley think the boy was 15 or younger?” Kerr said. “If Foley thought the boy was 16 or 17, it’s not a crime, assuming he meant to commit the act” in the District of Columbia.

Roth did not address the technicalities of the law Tuesday. Instead, he portrayed Foley as a victim who had battled alcoholism and the “shame” of abuse for nearly four decades.

“Mark does not blame the trauma he sustained as a young adolescent for his totally inappropriate e-mails and instant messages,” Roth said. “He continues to offer no excuse whatsoever for his conduct.”

Two longtime victims advocates said Tuesday that very few victims of clergy abuse go on to become abusers. But, said David Clohessy, national director of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, a small percentage do.

“I just hope that Foley has the courage and strength to publicly expose his abuser,” Clohessy said.

Roth also said that Foley wanted to announce that he was gay, a fact that was widely reported in Florida several years ago and was well-known around Capitol Hill.

As Roth worked to paint his client in a sympathetic light, federal investigators pressed forward with their investigation, collecting evidence around the Capitol.

A law enforcement official familiar with the investigation said the House of Representatives’ general counsel had begun providing the FBI with details about how House leaders handled reports of e-mails Foley sent to a page last year in which he asked for a photo and asked the boy how old he was.

The information included “the who, what, when and where” of the leadership’s response, said the official, who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the ongoing investigation.

House Republican leaders, including Speaker J. Dennis Hastert of Illinois, have been under fire since last week for failing to aggressively investigate Foley’s contacts with pages after they learned about the e-mails last year.

The House Ethics Committee scheduled its first meeting on Foley’s actions for Thursday, in closed session. The House voted Friday to direct the ethics panel to inquire into the matter.

And Tuesday, one of the nation’s leading advocates for children called on Congress to enact legislation that would mandate members to report child abuse.

“We think it is essential for Congress to act and to send a clear message that the abuse of children -- whether it is through the Internet or any other means -- is not acceptable, and that members of Congress give this issue the same level of attention state governments have,” said Shay Bilchik, president of the Child Welfare League of America.