Monday, October 02, 2006

Miami Herald Saw “Over-Friendly” Foley E-mails, Thought Them Ambiguous

From the Miami Herald:
WASHINGTON - The FBI is looking at whether former Florida Rep. Mark Foley’s computer exchanges with underage House pages broke any laws, an FBI spokesman said late Sunday.

The agency is “conducting an assessment to determine if there has been any violation of federal law,” the FBI’s Stephen Kodak said.

Under fire from Democrats, House Speaker Dennis Hastert also asked Sunday that U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales -- and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement -- look into the case.

On Friday ABC News had released a series of sexually explicit instant messaging sessions between Foley and what it said were underage pages -- high schoolers who serve as messengers in the House and Senate.

Hastert’s letters to Gonzales and Gov. Jeb Bush say the sexually explicit instant messages between Foley and pages “warrant a criminal referral.”

Hastert notes the messages were “reportedly generated three years ago” and “it is important to know who may have had the communications and why they were not given to prosecutors before now.” “I request that the scope of your investigation include any and all individuals who may have been aware of this matter -- be they members of Congress, employees of the House of Representatives, or anyone outside the Congress,” he wrote.

His letter drew a sharp distinction between the instant messaging sessions -- which Hastert said he was never made aware of -- and e-mails between Foley and a former House page, which top GOP leaders saw in 2005. Foley was told to cease contact with the page. Hastert noted that the same e-mails were viewed by editors at The St. Petersburg Times, which reviewed them, considered them “friendly chit chat” and declined to run a story.

Miami Herald Executive Editor Tom Fiedler said Sunday the newspaper also saw the same e-mails and “didn’t feel there was sufficient clarity in the e-mails to warrant a story.

“We determined after discussion among several senior editors, including myself, that the content of the messages was too ambiguous to lead to a news story,” Fiedler said.

The call for a criminal investigation came as Democrats signaled that they plan to use the Republican House leaders’ response to reports of the e-mails sent by Foley as an issue in the pivotal November election.

The obvious question here is: if the e-mails lacked “sufficient clarity” and were “too ambiguous” to justify a story in the Miami Herald, nor even a follow-up investigation by Herald reporters, how was Hastert and/or his staff supposed to have clearly seen that was going on?

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