McHenry seeks sworn Dem account

North Carolina Republican Rep. Patrick McHenry called on Democratic leaders yesterday to testify under oath about when they knew of former Rep. Mark Foley’s (R-Fla.) Internet communications with a House page. 

North Carolina Republican Rep. Patrick McHenry called on Democratic leaders yesterday to testify under oath about when they knew of former Rep. Mark Foley’s (R-Fla.) Internet communications with a House page. 

Writing to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) Chairman Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.), McHenry questioned whether Democrats had a role in publicizing the e-mails, which broke in the middle of the fall election season creating a furor rarely seen in congressional politics.

“Is the American public to believe that neither of you nor your staffs nor anyone associated with your staffs had prior knowledge or involvement with the release of Foley’s e-mails and/or explicit instant messages? Is the American public to believe that ABC News stumbled haphazardly on this story without Democratic assistance?” wrote McHenry, a freshman Republican who has emerged as an attack dog for the GOP.

He asked that Pelosi and Emanuel offer a “yes or no” answer as to whether they would go under oath “to assure the American people that neither you nor your staffs had prior knowledge or involvement — at the strategic or tactical levels — with the release of Foley’s e-mails and/or instant messages.”

Spokespeople for Pelosi and the DCCC dismissed McHenry’s demand as political posturing.

“Republicans just don’t get it; every mother in America is asking how Republican’s could choose partisan politics over protecting kids, and the Republicans are asking who could have blown their cover-up,” said Pelosi spokeswoman Jennifer Crider. “If we had seen Mark Foley’s horrific e-mails or instant messages, we would have immediately acted to protect these kids.”

DCCC spokeswoman Sarah Feinberg said, “Of course we did not have the e-mails or instant messages. Give me a break. If you recall, they also blamed us for indicting [former Majority Leader Tom DeLay [R-Texas].  Speaker Hastert and his staff have known about Foley’s inappropriate behavior for years and their attempt to deflect their responsibility is absurd.”

A handful of House Republicans have admitted that they knew about the original Foley e-mails in late 2005. In those e-mails, Foley asked a male House page for a picture of himself but was not overtly sexual. No member of Congress or congressional staff member has admitted to knowing about the more explicit series of instant messages that surfaced Friday and led to Foley’s resignation.

Pelosi dismissed speculation that Democratic leadership knew about the e-mails prior to Thursday, when ABC News broke the story in the media.

“It’s absolutely not true,” she said. The e-mails appeared on a blog, stopsexpredators.blogspot.com, earlier in September.

Democrats have called for a full investigation of “when the Republican leadership was notified” of the e-mails and what action they took, suggesting Republican leaders had covered up the e-mails to avoid political repercussions in a tough election cycle.

As the scandal ballooned this week, several House Republicans sought to gain control of the media frenzy by questioning whether Democrats themselves knew about the emails and had sought to use them to political advantage by waiting until just before the elections to give them to the news media.

Although political observers agree that the timing of the story could not have been better, ABC News reporter Brian Ross told The New York Times on Tuesday that his source was a Republican.

“I hate to give up sources, but to the extent that I know the political parties of any of the people who helped us, it would be the same party,” Ross said.

ABC News investigative producer Maddy Sauer worked on the story with Ross.

“They were passed to a colleague of mine from a source, not someone from a Democratic campaign, a source on the Hill,” Sauer told Democracy Now Tuesday.

At least two other news organizations, The Miami Herald and The St. Petersburg Times, knew of the email exchange but opted not to publish it.

Still, Republican operatives point out that an ethics watchdog group, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) had a copy of the emails as early as July 21 and passed them on to the FBI. They note that several of CREW’s staff members previously worked on Capitol Hill for Democrats.

But a spokeswoman for CREW, Naomi Seligman Steiner, told The Hill Tuesday that the group did not pass the emails to any other entity and was not the source of the ABC News story.