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It looks like the FBI's tried to rabbit-punch a good-government group that's been demanding to find out why the bureau didn't open a probe of Mark Foley months ago.

On Monday, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington demanded an investigation into why the FBI didn't open a probe of Mark Foley in July, when the group forwarded copies of the former lawmaker's questionable emails to the bureau.

This morning, an unnamed "official" fired back via a blind quote in the Washington Post, which suggested the group, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, had held the emails for months before giving them to the FBI, and would not cooperate with agents:

One law enforcement official -- speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss an ongoing investigation -- also told The Washington Post the FBI believed that CREW may have received the e-mails as early as April and that the group refused to tell the FBI how they were obtained.

CREW says that's categorically false. "They're making it up. There's no question about it. As things get worse for them, they seem to be making up more lies," CREW spokeswoman Naomi Seligman told me.

She stood by the group's claim that it received the emails in mid-July, and forwarded them to the FBI shortly thereafter. "We were more than willing to cooperate with them," Seligman said of the bureau -- but the FBI never contacted her group. "If they did call us, we'd love to know when." Her group continues to call for an investigation of the matter by the Justice Department's inspector general.

Update: An earlier version of this story stated that Seligman said CREW turned the emails over to the FBI one week after receiving them. This was not accurate; Seligman says the group turned them over the same day it received them.

Instead of tapping a special prosecutor to investigate the House leadership's handling of Mark Foley's threat to congressional pages, the House ethics committee says they'll form their own special investigative subcommittee to look at the page program in general.

Not good enough, says Rep. Joel Hefley (R-CO), who used to head up the ethics committee (until he was tossed out on his ear for being too tough on Tom DeLay). He told NPR yesterday that the committee should appoint a special counsel to investigate the matter.

Hefley said that he's "been opposed to special counsels most of the time in the past," but that "the high-level nature" of the Foley investigation warranted a special prosecutor or special task force of former members. The interview appears to have taken place before the ethics committee announced their own probe.

So House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) had his big day in the sun yesterday, where he kind of apologized, kind of announced an independent probe of the page program, kind of blamed the Democrats for everything, and kind of admitted that the GOP leadership could have handled the whole mess a little better.

What he pointedly didn't do was thank ABC for bringing the sordid scandal to light, as Reader JL noted:

It seems to me that if Denny Hastert were sincere, he would thank ABC News for uncovering Rep. Foley's conduct with pages. The FBI had already passed on a chance to investigate this, which means that Foley would still be IMing pages.

To jaded politicos, this likely sounds like a naive observation. But it's sincere, and direct. For the pages, Congress is in loco parentis, as Rep. Doc Hastings (R-WA) pointed out at the House Ethics Committee press conference yesterday.

If Hastert is supposed to consider the kids like they were his own, and his own staff and colleagues hid from him that they were being recruited as vulnerable partners for sexual hijinks, shouldn't he be a little more appreciative ABC brought it to his attention?

On Wednesday night, House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) spun tales of Democratic cabals and hidden agendas for the benefit of hungry reporters. Hastert told The Chicago Tribune that Clinton operatives knew about the allegations and were maybe behind the story's release. "I saw Bill Clinton's adviser, Richard Morris, was saying these guys knew about this all along," he said. "When the base finds out who's feeding this monster, they're not going to be happy.... The people who want to see this thing blow up are ABC News and a lot of Democratic operatives, people funded by George Soros."

But yesterday, when a reporter prodded Hastert to repeat the performance at his press conference, he said, "I only know what I've seen in the press and what I've heard. There's no ultimate, real source of information, but that's what I've read. And that's what I've heard in the press." Later, he said he believed that Democrats "don't have a story to tell. And maybe they're resolving to another way to -- to -- another political tactic."

What gives? Whither his grand conspiratorial suspicions? This morning's Tribune has the answer:

Comments that Hastert made in a Tribune interview suggesting the scandal had been orchestrated by ABC News, Democratic political operatives aligned with the Clinton White House and liberal activist George Soros were considered a serious misstep in national Republican circles, an official said. Senior Republican officials contacted Hastert's office before his news conference Thursday to urge that he not repeat the charges, and he backed away from them in his news conference.

"The Chicago Tribune interview last night--the George Soros defense--was viewed as incredibly inept," a national Republican official said. "It could have been written by [comedian] Jon Stewart."

House Republicans Move to Back Hastert "Republicans are calculating that the smartest way to survive the Mark Foley sex scandal is to rally around House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) and hope that no new evidence surfaces before Election Day that shows GOP leaders could have done more to prevent the congressman from preying on young male pages, according to several GOP lawmakers and strategists.

"For now, they said, it would be politically disastrous for Republicans to oust Hastert because it would be viewed as akin to a public admission of guilt in the scandal, as well as a pre-election victory that would buoy Democrats and help their turnout efforts....

"Still, many Republicans accused Hastert of badly bungling the political fallout of the Foley scandal and waiting until yesterday to take responsibility and decisive action to investigate the matter.

"'I don't think anyone has handled this particularly well,' said a top House Republican, who requested anonymity in order to speak candidly. Hastert and other leaders 'are having to focus on staying clear of this scandal individually, and not thinking about reelecting people.'

"Others complained that Hastert's blame-the-media-and-Democrats strategy looks odd when conservatives are leading the charge for his resignation." (WaPo)

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Earlier today, the Drudge Report published a story claiming that one batch of lewd IM transcripts published by ABC News were the result of a "prank" by a former House page. The former page, Drudge said, "goaded Foley to type embarrassing comments," which he shared with friends.

The story did not quote the young man, or say whether any attempt had been made to contact him or his lawyer.

Now, the lawyer for the former page in question, 21-year-old Jordan Edmund, says the Drudge Report article is false. Calling the story "a piece of fiction," Stephen Jones told the Daily Oklahoman that "there is not any aspect of this matter that is a practical joke nor should anyone treat it that way."

This afternoon, ABC News published news of three more former pages who had sexual online conversations with Foley similar to Edmund's.

The parents of the page who received the original icky emails that got Foleygate rolling submitted a statement to CNN this evening.

They corroborate Republicans' accounts that they did not want an investigation into the matter and call their son a "hero" for "[questioning] the intention of the e-mails."

Full statement below...

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Is Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) worried about damage in his home district from the page scandal?

Here's one indication that he is. Yesterday, his campaign paid for automated calls in his district in support of the Speaker. The calls were a counter-offensive against a left-leaning group that's been hitting Republicans nationwide on the Foley scandal. You can listen to a recording of the Hastert call here.

Earlier this week, American Family Voices blanketed some 50 districts with calls urging citizens "to call their congressman and 'demand he stop the coverup' of the Mark Foley scandal," according to The Palm Beach Post. One of those districts was Hastert's.

Hastert's call, recorded on an answering machine by a TPM reader, characterizes American Family Voices as "a liberal extremist group" deploying "untrue partisan attacks." The call also points out that the group is headed by John Lux, a former Clinton administration aide -- a fact that some conservatives have used to suggest that the Clintons are actually behind Foleygate. The full script of the call, as best as I could transcribe it, is below.

Hastert's opponent in the 14th District is John Laesch, a former intelligence analyst with the U.S. Navy. CQ Politics rates the race as Safe Republican -- but who knows? That may change.

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From ABC News:

Three more former congressional pages have come forward to reveal what they call "sexual approaches" over the Internet from former Congressman Mark Foley.

The pages served in the classes of 1998, 2000 and 2002....

"I was seventeen years old and just returned to [my home state] when Foley began to e-mail me, asking if I had ever seen my page roommates naked and how big their penises were," said the page in the 2002 class.

The former page also said Foley told him that if he happened to be in Washington, D.C., he could stay at Foley's home if he "would engage in oral sex" with Foley....

The second page who talked with ABC News, a graduate of the 2000 page class, says Foley actually visited the old page dorm and offered rides to events in his BMW.

"His e-mails developed into sexually explicit conversations, and he asked me for photographs of my erect penis," the former page said....

All three pages described similar instant message and e-mail patterns, with remarkably similar escalations of provocative questions.

"He didn't want to talk about politics," the page said. "He wanted to talk about sex or my penis," the page said.

The three new verbal accounts are in addition to two sets of sexually explicit instant messages provided to ABC News by former pages.

Thanks to a technical error on the part of ABC, bloggers recently determined the identity of one of the former pages who chatted online with disgraced former congressman Mark Foley (R-FL).

Last night, the Daily Oklahoman was the first newspaper to publish the name of the former page, now a 21-year-old Oklahoma resident.

The former page, Jordan Edmund, did not comment for the story, and the paper reported that he has hired a lawyer, Stephen Jones, to represent him. Edmund currently works on Rep. Ernest Istook's (R-OK) gubernatorial campaign.

Today, the Drudge Report has reported that two anonymous sources familiar with Edmund are saying that Edmund is not gay, and the IM transcripts published by ABC were a "prank."

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