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Probe Finds No Rules Broken by US Congressional Leaders in Handling of Sex Scandal Case

A special ethics panel in the U.S. House of Representatives says Republican congressional leaders did not break any rules in their handling of inappropriate conduct by a former Republican lawmaker, Mark Foley. But as VOA's Dan Robinson reports from Capitol Hill, the panel says it was disturbed by a failure to act aggressively enough, and to appreciate the potential impact of the affair.

The scandal involving Foley was a dark cloud hanging over Republicans from before the November congressional mid-term elections.

As a member of Congress representing a district in Florida, Foley headed a House panel on missing and exploited children.

He resigned abruptly amid revelations that he sent sexually explicit e-mails and electronic messages to teenage male congressional interns who assist members of Congress.

The House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct spent more than 100 hours interviewing 51 witnesses, including eight lawmakers and current and former staffers.

While it finds that House Speaker Dennis Hastert and other current leaders broke no specific rules, the panel faults individuals for trying to shift responsibility to others, and failing to probe more deeply into allegations.

In the words of the report: "A pattern of conduct was exhibited among many individuals to remain willfully ignorant of the potential consequences of former [Congressman] Foley's conduct with respect to House pages" [Interns].

At a news conference, members declined to take questions, referring reporters to the text of the committee report.

However, Republican co-chairman Doc Hastings says he believes the committee succeeded in clarifying the matter for the American people, and offered this general observation:

"Each of us who is privileged to serve in the House, members, officers and staff alike, has an affirmative obligation to speak up, and to seek appropriate action and then to follow up to ensure that that concern has been properly addressed," he said.

"This is not the jerry-rigged [prepared carelessly] result of a series of compromises, but rather the right report on this subject," said California Congressman Howard Berman, the Democratic co-chairman.

While recommending no further investigative or disciplinary action, the panel says that in future, lawmakers and officials must pursue specific and non-specific allegations of improper interactions with male or female congressional pages, adding that failure to do so threatens the integrity of the House.

Before the November elections, critics had called for the resignation of House Speaker Dennis Hastert, who it was alleged or suggested sought to block a thorough probe, or simply failed to act strongly enough.

Hastert refused to resign, insisting that he only learned of Foley's behavior this past September.

However, a former congressional staffer insisted he had told Hastert aides about Foley's activities several years ago, while key Republicans said they informed senior Hastert aides in early 2006.

After the election, the Foley scandal all but disappeared from the headlines. Foley's vacant seat in Florida was won by a Democratic candidate.

After he resigned, Foley announced through an attorney that he was a homosexual and had been abused by a priest when he was a boy. He has not appeared in public since entering a treatment center for alcoholism.