WEST PALM BEACH, FL – It’s been more than two years since Mark Foley resigned from the United States Congress after being confronted with lurid e-mails and instant messages he sent to male pages. In the first interview since his resignation, Foley has broken his silence and agreed to sit down with WPTV anchor, Roxanne Stein.
1. "Torturous. Difficult, embarrassing, I don't know how many adjectives I could throw at you to quantify this experience."
Those words broke a two-year, self-imposed silence by former South Florida Congressman Mark Foley, as he sat down to face WPTV’s camera at his West Palm Beach office to talk about his life now, and the emails he sent that brought down his career.
NewsChannel 5’s Roxanne Stein asked Foley about the day the news broke, and the reaction of his parents and his sister, Donna.
"It was happening so quickly. Donna happened to be with me and she was there to help me in that crisis. It's a blur right now. I can't remember my moments; my actions at 3 o’clock that Friday afternoon, September 29, 2006,” said Foley.
"They were unconditional in their love. My father was sick with cancer so that was a very difficult time and, of course you felt like you've let them down when you have. There’s no getting around. There's no saying 'remember the good times at the White House. Remember when we went to the congressional Christmas party'. That doesn't quite get you the opportunity to make nice and restore the pride and integrity you hope you showed.”
Shortly after Foley's resignation, his attorney, David Roth, announced Foley was gay and had been molested by a priest as a teenage altar boy. Foley also checked himself into an Arizona treatment facility for what his attorneys said was "alcoholism and other behavioral problems."
"So people would say: 'Wait a minute. All of a sudden he's going to say he's an alcoholic and he was abused. We've heard this before'," said Foley. "It was all true. Everything David Roth said that day was true, despite the fact that so many people assumed we were making it up to save my political hide.”
Shortly after Foley’s resignation and these revelations, a WPTV producer interviewed the priest in question, Father Anthony Mercieca, by phone from his home on the Maltese island of Gozo, in an interview that made national news.
Mercieca, now in his early 70’s, acknowledged the abuse, but downplayed the effect it would have on a young boy. "Once maybe I touched him or so, but didn't, it wasn't -- because it's not something you call, I mean, rape or penetration or anything like that you know. We were just fondling... Let's say it was 40 years ago, almost 40 years ago, so why bring this up at this late stage?" Mercieca asked. "Anyway, he will overcome it, with a psychiatrist you know. Mark is a very intelligent man."
Foley said he never overcame it, and it was a secret he kept for decades.
"I didn't tell anybody. I told my sister in 2003, so I dealt with this in private, on my own. Nobody knew. No one knew. I shared with very few people and very late in life, and I think that was one of my predicaments, and what I would say to anyone listening, or anyone who would care to listen to what I have to say is: If you've had any of this in your past life, you can't remedy it on your own. The scars are too deep," said Foley.
Foley told NewsChannel 5, he never properly dealt with the abuse.
"I wish I would have confronted those demons, but there was a lot of hesitation because my parents had such deep faith and I didn't want to let them down. I didn't want to let them believe that a man of God could have done this to their son and so you keep it inside yourself. You hide it from everyone because you feel like it may have been my fault and you try your best to move forward, ignoring that it happened when you're 12 years old. Your priest tells you 'this is healthy'; 'this is good' and 'if you tell anyone i'll kill myself', so your life is instantly changed. It doesn't make it right. I regret to this day that incident and what I've done but I can't change history," said Foley.
Today, that history includes the emails and instant messages that ended his career.
"I could never say those words that were on those texts to those people in person. By God, no way in the world could I mouth those words. That's what I've learned in my journey; in my struggles," said Foley.
Though Foley and his lawyer always maintained that he never had inappropriate contact with minors, he acknowledges that the exchanges through email and instant message were inappropriate.
"Oh, no question about it. I think at times, you know, it's an innocent thing going back and forth. You know, I wasn't soliciting on the internet. This was not that kind of arrangement. I can't make it sound better and i'm not going to try by suggesting this is an exchange between two people that was appropriate," said Foley.
Foley continued, “So i think in the back of your mind, you know it's wrong, but when you've never confronted those very demons; when you've never addressed your basic, you know, why does somebody drink? Why does somebody drink in excess? Why do they have the scars of sexual abuse in their past if you don't seek professional help?"
Public response to those emails was enormous. Foley has kept several letters of support from members of the public, but is also stung by those who suggest he’s a pedophile.
"It hits me right in the gut because it's absolutely false, because i never had sex with a child. I never had sex with a minor. A pedophile is somebody who is having sex with a prepubescent person, and that is an outrage to be called that, and I realize why my critics would, and i accept the fact that it would be so, but i don't have to accept the title, and I won't accept the title because it's not true," said Foley. "A lot of the allegations against me: going to page dorms, have been proven to be false stories on the internet, that had me as disgusting and disgraceful are patently false."
1. A Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigation cleared Foley. His congressional computers, though, were never part of that inquiry. Florida authorities had said their investigation was hampered because neither Foley nor the House would let its investigators examine those computers.
In a letter to the FDLE obtained by The Associated Press, House Deputy General Counsel Kerry Kircher wrote that because the data "may contain legislative information that is constitutionally privileged ... and because Mr. Foley has not waived that privilege ... we cannot simply give you access."
The Florida agency had been working with the FBI and Foley's attorneys to gain access to information on the computers. Foley's attorneys had declined to comment throughout the investigation, but Foley spoke about the decision with WPTV.
"Your computers were protected. If you really wanted to clear the air, could you have turned them over yourself?", asked WPTV anchor, Roxanne Stein.
Foley answered, "There are legislative protective materials on my computer. There are constituents information on them that are sensitive to them, so to turn my computers over to authorities, but we did work closely with the Justice Department and the FBI, the child exploitations unit, they were able to see every image on my computer."
Words, though, ended this congressman's bright career. Foley is keenly aware that many constituents have never heard from him until now. Foley was emotional when he addressed the locals who supported him.
"Oh, I'm sorry. I apologize. I don't even want to be crying on set, but they deserve to know that my failings and my actions were so embarrassing to my family, to my partner, and to them, and they trusted me and I'm sorry I let them down."
For the past two years, Foley says he’s often sought refuge along the lake trail on Palm Beach, walking his dogs.
"There are many times I said, 'What did i do? Why did i let this happen? How did i let this happen? And my life is unalterably changed. There is no going back… I had so many unique opportunities and i felt like i destroyed them in a very sad way," said Foley.
For the past two years, Foley has had time to reflect on what happened, and why he sent inappropriate emails and instant messages to pages.
"I think part of the same thing that made me successful made me weak. I was available to everyone. If a page or a parent or the janitor called me or emailed me, I would respond, so that was part of my own failing to determine the appropriateness of the response. But no one was outside my world or my oportunity to help, so if someone was confiding in me, whether it be the page or the parent, that interaction was real and genuine and maybe I was too open and available. Maybe I allowed myself to walk in to situations that i shouldn't have," said Foley.
For the first time, Foley spoke candidly about being gay, and says keeping it secret was a personal and political decision.
"No question. You don't let people into your life. And again, that's another attempt to conceal the real you, and that's part of the politics problem… People don't accept you for who you are," said Foley "I think if i could have been more open about my life, people told me obviously afterwards, 'Everyone knew you were gay. What would be the problem?' Well, just uttering the words was difficult."
He now speaks openly about his partner, Layne Nisenbaum, who stood by him.
"Oh, the extraordinary act of love. The capacity for somebody to love you that deeply, where they will not run from you in the moment of crisis this humiliating, it's embarrasing to people. I mean sometimes the person who does it isn't as mortified as the people around you because they don't understand what happened here. In your own skin, you know that things were awry so you knew this bouncing around in your head was not healthy. But for those that are witnessing your journey, they just see the best and greatest potential," said Foley.
It was a two-year period with many challenges.
"i think the lowest was the embarrassment I knew I created for the people I love the most: my parents, my family, my partner, the community," said Foley.
Another major challenge, Foley says, was trying to mourn his father’s death, when a private family moment became a photo-opportunity for news organizations.
"My father's passing was a difficult time for all of us. The media hounding me at that very moment, that very private moment, I mean, I'd never seen more cameras in my life trying to capture a picture of a former member of Congress. You own news cruisers in front of my driveway who wouldn't let me leave the driveway without getting that precious shot. That was a difficult time and it should have been handled differently," said Foley
After Foley’s resignation from Congress, voters elected Democrat Tim Mahoney. Two years later, Mahoney lost his re-election bid after a public scandal involving Mahoney’s multiple mistresses. Foley spoke about Mahoney.
"Watching Tim was not anything that made me say 'Yipee Yi Oh!' and 'He got what he deserved.' It's another person who falls short of expectations; another person who is wrestling with some demons. There's a reason for some of the behavior and it's not for me to sit here and have a pity-party or a celebration. The collateral damage that happened to Tim is exactly what happened to me. And the people he hurt; the people i hurt, none of them deserved what I gave them."
Today, Foley is ensconced in his real estate business. In his office are several reminders of his congressional past: an office rug, a souvenir 'Senate' chair, a Capitol Hill painting. Foley is constantly reminded of those who elected him, and had a message for them:
"I hope the people I love in this community know that I never would have intentionally hurt them or let them down. This was not an act of hubris. This was not an act of self-destruction that I would control and this is clearly something, in reflection, I would have acted differently, so I would hope they know how much I enjoyed my service to them and how mortified I am about my behavior to have caused them such horrific embarrassment."