The Republican party’s House campaign committee chief on Sunday apologised for failing to spot “lies” by former congressman Mark Foley as party figures tried to limit the damage from the unfolding congressional email scandal.
Tom Reynolds, who is in a close fight with a Democratic challenger to retain his New York state seat, said he had “trusted others” to investigate allegations of improper emails sent by Mr Foley to congressional pages.
Speaking in a TV advertisement aired at the weekend, he said he had learned in the spring about “odd but not explicit” emails sent to pages by Mr Foley, and that he reported this to House speaker Dennis Hastert.
“At the time, I though I had done the right thing. I have since learned that newspapers in Florida and the FBI had copies of the emails for months and that Foley had been confronted by them and lied.
“I trusted that others had investigated. Looking back, more should have been done, and for that, I'm sorry," Mr Reynolds said.
Mr Hastert’s handling of the Foley case may become a central issue in many congressional races.
A Newsweek magazine poll showed that 52 per cent of Americans – and 29 per cent of Republicans - believed that Mr Hastert was aware of Mr Foley’s inappropriate emails and tried to cover it up.
Democrats and Republicans joined battle on the airwaves yesterday on the issue, with Republicans again attempting to suggest that Democrats were behind the timing of the exposure of the emails.
Jack Kingston, a Georgia Republican, said: "What I don’t understand is where have these emails been for three years. Are we saying a 15-year-old child would sit on emails that were triple-X-rated for three years and spring them out on eve of the election? That’s just a little suspicious, even for Washington, DC"
Marty Meehan, a Massachusetts Democrat, accused Republicans of trying to shift the blame, saying: "Only in Washington, DC can you take a group of people in charge of the House and basically have evidence that they’ve been looking the other way while a predator ... has been going after 15- and 16-year-old pages.
"And they have the audacity to turn that into a political attack against Democrats, saying, ‘They must have known about it so they’re responsible.’"