IG Report Hits FBI on Foley Case

Posted January 22, 2007 at 7:24pm

The Justice Department’s inspector general issued a report Monday critical of the FBI’s lackluster response to e-mail correspondence between then-Rep. Mark Foley (R-Fla.) and a former Congressional page that the bureau received months before the scandal broke.

While stating that the lack of FBI action “did not constitute misconduct,” the inspector general chastised the bureau for failing to follow up on the substance of the e-mails, even if they did not contain overtly criminal conduct.

“We believe that the emails 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 steps with regard to the emails,” the report states.

In July 2006, Melanie Sloan, the head of the liberal-leaning watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, received a series of messages between Foley and a former House page, and more e-mails between the former page and another House employee. Believing they warranted investigation, she forwarded them to the FBI’s Washington, D.C., field office, where they were originally received by the Public Corruption Squad (which has a special agent who is supposed to serve as liaison with watchdog groups, the report says).

The e-mails eventually found their way to the Cyber Crimes Squad, which declined to investigate them. The FBI did not inform CREW of its decision.

E-mails and Internet messages between Foley and House pages became public in September 2006, sparking a scandal that roiled the House and resulted in Foley’s resignation. The FBI formally opened an investigation on Oct. 1.

The e-mails submitted by CREW include ones from the summer of 2005 that contain Foley asking the ex-page for an e-mailed photo, and later correspondence between the former page and a House employee in which the ex-page called the request for a picture “sick sick sick.”

While noting that the emails were “odd,” the supervisory special agent in charge of the Cyber Crimes Squad said the e-mails did not trigger an investigation because, to the agent, they did not constitute criminal behavior.

The special agent insisted that the e-mails were “not the job of the FBI,” according to the report, but a “parental job.” The agent added that “the FBI has to have a reasonable basis to believe a crime has been committed or will be committed before investigating because ‘we’re the big bad government’” and “to do otherwise would be a misuse of government authority.”

“In hindsight, I wouldn’t have changed my decision,” the report quoted the agent as saying. “We are not the ethics police.”

But the inspector general disagreed. The report argued that the FBI should have taken some “limited investigative steps,” such as a preliminary interview with the former page or notifying House officials or supervisors of the page program. It argued that the FBI should have at least notified CREW that it did not intend to take action so that Sloan could choose to pursue other steps.

“Given Foley’s position of trust and authority in relation to the pages, the concern expressed by the page, and the troubling nature of the e-mails, we believe taking some action would have been the better course of action,” the report states.

The inspector general noted that it took into account that the “unusual” language in Foley’s e-mails fell within the FBI’s own warnings in its “Parents Guide to Internet Safety,” in which a potential sexual predator may use more subtle tactics, such as simple attention and gifts.

The inspector general also appeared to vindicate CREW and Sloan’s complaints that the FBI mischaracterized the circumstances surrounding the original submission of the e-mails to the FBI, leading to the implication that CREW at least was partially responsible for the lack of a further FBI probe. After the scandal broke, Sloan asked the inspector general to investigate why the FBI had not opened an earlier investigation and to probe FBI and Justice Department statements regarding her submission of the e-mails.

FBI and Justice Department officials stated in some media reports that the e-mails had been “heavily redacted” and that Sloan refused to disclose their original source. But Sloan contended she was never asked to reveal the source of the e-mails, and she told investigators that the e-mails already were redacted when she received them.

The inspector general’s report concluded that the FBI and Justice Department statements about the CREW e-mails were “not accurate.”

In a statement, Sloan said, “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.”

She added, “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 IG’s report vindicates CREW completely.”