Richard Drew / AP Enlarge
NEW YORK - Even today, two years after Mark Foley's very public fall from grace, the former congressman can't explain why he sent lurid, sexually explicit computer messages to male teens who had worked as Capitol Hill pages.
Sitting in his room at the Four Seasons Hotel in New York this week, the Florida Republican, wearing a yellow tie with blue elephants, finally broke his silence.
"I'm trying to find my way back," Mr. Foley said in his first public comments on the scandal since resigning from Congress on Sept. 29, 2006.
Mr. Foley insists he did nothing illegal and never had sexual contact with teens, just inappropriate Internet conversations. Investigations by the FBI and Florida authorities ended without criminal charges.
While he concedes his behavior was "extraordinarily stupid," he remains somewhat unwilling to accept full public scorn.
These were 17-year-olds, just months from being men, he insists.
"There was never anywhere in those conversations where someone said, 'Stop,' or 'I'm not enjoying this,' or 'This is inappropriate' but again, I'm the adult here, I'm the congressman," Mr. Foley said. "The fact is I allowed it to happen. That's where my responsibility lies."
Mr. Foley had built a national reputation as an advocate for tougher penalties against child sexual predators. As co-chairman of the Congressional Missing and Exploited Children's Caucus, he helped craft a law to protect children on the Internet.
Still, he said, there was no hypocrisy.
"The work I was doing was involving young children. ... You know, you hear the term 'pedophile.' That is prepubescent," Mr. Foley said, noting a "huge difference" from lurid chats with teens on the brink of adulthood.
"At the end of the day, they were instant messages that were extraordinarily inappropriate," he added, his eyes wandering toward the ceiling.
So why talk now? Sympathy? Forgiveness?
Just to free himself from the media clamoring for his first interview.
"I believed I owed my constituents an apology," Mr. Foley said. "I embarrassed them and I embarrassed my family and I wanted to have a chance in a public setting to lend my voice to what happened, not through an attorney, not through a spokesperson, but from myself."
Today, he's a pariah in Congress and the Republican Party. The affable man who reveled in the spotlight finds himself branded a pedophile, at best, a creep. Three former staffers refused comment because of their disgust with his behavior. He makes his living investing in real estate and other business.
Shortly after his resignation, his attorney announced that Mr. Foley was gay and an alcoholic and had been molested by a priest as a teenage altar boy in Florida. Mr. Foley then checked himself into a treatment facility.
"I loved my early life, and then along comes a priest who forces me into a sexual relationship at the age of 12. And right shortly thereafter, I fail eighth grade, I start drugs, I start drinking, I start smoking," he said. "My entire life implodes."
He was elected to the U.S. House in 1994 as a popular hometown boy who kept busy in glitzy Palm Beach, Fla., attending lavish parties and fund-raisers with the likes of Donald Trump, Jay Leno, and actress Bo Derek.
While his homosexuality was said to be the worst-kept secret on the Hill, he cloaked himself in a false public persona, appearing at events with beautiful women.
He drank a lot and spiraled into darkness.
"Those demons that were inside me, by not addressing them, caused me to spin out of control," he said.
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