Wednesday, October 04, 2006

UPDATED: Did Foley break the law?

UPDATE (10/04/2006 - 9:12 p.m. EST): Drudge is reporting that the famous page in question (a) had his name temporarily leaked on the ABC News website; and (b) was 18 years old at the time of the exchange of e-mails/IMs. Time will tell how accurate, or even relevant, this is.

Sorry to stay on this Foley thing for the moment, but I read this MSNBC piece about whether Foley has actually broken any law. Excerpts:
Former Rep. Mark Foley’s online conversations with teenage male pages have all the trappings of a political scandal, but making a federal case out of the sexually charged exchanges could prove difficult, veteran investigators say.

Foley, a six-term Republican from Florida, resigned abruptly as his e-mails and instant message transcripts surfaced. The chats discussed sexual acts and possible meetings with pages, according to ABC News, which first reported them last week.

With the FBI investigating Foley’s behavior, his defense attorney, David Roth, said that the congressman never had sex or attempted sexual contact with a minor. Foley, who is being treated for alcohol abuse, was drinking when he had the explicit conversations, Roth said.

“Any suggestion that Mark Foley is a pedophile is false,” Roth said Tuesday at a news conference in West Palm Beach, Fla.

If Foley never had sex with a congressional page, then his case is in uncertain legal territory, said Ken Lanning, a retired FBI agent who served as one of the agency’s leading experts on child exploitation.

“There are going to be some issues here in the gray area,” Lanning said. “You may find this behavior repulsive, offensive or immoral. Whether it’s a violation of law will be based on a precise reading of the law.”
Some Democrats have claimed Foley might have violated the federal law used to prosecute Internet sex predators, but experts said it’s not that simple.

On the surface, the chat transcripts released by ABC News look much like any of the explicit conversations the FBI has used as evidence in its many Internet sex stings. In those cases, however, the sexually charged talk led to an arrest when adults arrived for real sexual encounters.

Graphic talk alone is rarely enough, said Joseph Dooley, a former agent who helped set up New England’s first FBI unit targeting Internet predators. Many adults engage in explicit chats with undercover agents but never show up for the scheduled meetings, he said.

“We never charged anyone unless they actually traveled to have sex,” Dooley said.

Investigators could consider federal obscenity laws, experts said, but the law prohibiting disseminating obscene material to children applies only to those under 16.
Therein lies the...oh, hell, I can't use the word "rub", can I?

See, the page that Foley IMed and e-mailed was 16. The legal age of sexual consent in DC is 16. Therefore, the kid was of legal age in DC. Thus, even if Foley and the kid had sex in DC (and there are no indications that they had sex at all), I don't know that a law has been broken. I'm no lawyer, but according to the legal experts in this MSNBC column, they're not convinced that a law has been broken, either.

I want to stress that I am talking about legality only here. Morally and ethically, there is no question of Foley's behavior: it's sick. Personally, I feel that any politician who has sex with a subordinate should be fired for violating the public trust and taking advantage of his/her position of power. Whether it's Clinton, Foley, Studds, or anyone, that should never happen. Especially in the case of Congressional pages, the public, pages, and parents all expect that the kids will be cared for properly.

So the only question is this: If Foley is guilty of a crime, then of what crime is he guilty?