White House Press Secretary Tony Snow was besieged with questions today at his daily briefing about the scandal involving Rep. Mark Foley of Florida, who resigned on Friday because of sex-laced emails to former teenage House pages. The question even took precedent over charges from Bob Woodward’s book.
One question concerned Snow’s statement on CNN this morning, referring to the graphic emails to “”simply naughty emails.”” Snow tried to explain that a bit, admitting that he may have sounded “”a little bit too glib.””
He also asked reporters to not jump to conclusions in regard to the guilt of any GOP leaders in not moving fast enough against Foley: “”I know everybody wants a rush — to come in with a conclusion, a rock’em, sock’em conclusion.””
Here is the transcript of the Foley-related exchanges.
Q Tony, is the administration satisfied with the way the House Republican leadership is dealing with the Foley matter? And what did you mean when you said there have been scandals, more than simply naughty emails on the Hill?
MR. SNOW: No, no, I said there’s a lot of gossip, as you know. Gossip flows freely about members, and rather than retelling it, I was simply citing a fact of life.I believe maybe even some has come to your attention once or twice, Tom.
But having said that, look, this is an awful and disturbing story. And anybody who sends children, young people to Capitol Hill for the privilege of becoming pages ought to be assured that their sons or daughters can learn about the noblest traditions of American politics and not about something else.
I am told that Speaker Hastert will be doing interviews today and he will be able to go through that. So as far as answering particular questions about who knew what, when or what they knew or how they’re going to deal with it, I’ll refer those questions to the Speaker.
Q But has the President heard any explanation from the Speaker, or anyone in the senior leadership, as to why they did not act earlier? And why, for example, no FBI investigation before this, when most of this was known months ago?
MR. SNOW: The FBI at this point is still trying to figure out — considering a preliminary investigation to find out whether any laws were broken. As far as who, what, when, where why, I think what you need is the facts. We have impressionistic stories; we need to find out what it is that people knew at various times. And, again, I’ll refer you to Speaker Hastert for that.
Q But there is a risk that by taking this wait-and-see approach that it leaves an impression that the White House thinks that the conduct of the Speaker and other leaders was sufficient.
MR. SNOW: Well, we don’t know what the conduct was, and we don’t know what they knew. So what we’re not going to do is to leap to judgment without finding out what the deal is. I mean, I called over to the Speaker’s office — the question is, what exactly did they have. And the Speaker has turned over emails and documents to the Justice Department, which they are reviewing. And not having seen the documents, I’m just unwilling to try to characterize what he knew or when, and, again, I think the appropriate person to answer that is the guy who knows, which is the Speaker. He’s coming out today.
But let’s make it clear, when you have allegations of this sort, for any parent, and for most decent people, they’re horrifying. There’s no excuse for that. But now the question is, how did they do it — I mean, what did they know about it, and what sort of measures will the House of Representatives be taking, and if there are legal steps, one presumes that the proper and duly constituted legal authorities will follow through on them.
Q But even on a gut level, if the Speaker was aware that there were overly friendly emails, are you satisfied that he allowed Representative Foley to continue to work in areas like the Missing and Exploited Children?
MR. SNOW: Again, I’ve got to find out what he knew. There have been characterizations of what “”overly friendly”” means, and I think rather than getting myself into the position of second-guessing, I really would rather know. Now it may be that at some point we’ll come up and —
Q Did the President know –
Q But, Tony —
MR. SNOW: No, the President does not have —
Q But Tony —
MR. SNOW: Let me just finish answering the question. Not having seen it, it places us in a peculiar situation. I think people are trying to put us in a box, and say, you know what, unless you come out and you condemn Denny Hastert, you’re saying that this behavior is acceptable. It’s not. Let’s get that part clear. Let’s also be clear that people who have the privilege of working in government ought to hold themselves to higher standards. The House is responsible for enforcing its standards. That has always been the case. And Denny Hastert will come forth, he’ll tell you what he knew, and I think everybody will be in a better position to render judgment at that point.
Q Tony, do you think Americans should be confident sending young people to Capitol Hill, given what you do know? And I know you don’t know everything, but surely there’s been some communication. And it’s these overly friendly emails, which have been out —
MR. SNOW: I think —
Q How can Americans feel confident that they can send their young people to the Hill, if that’s what happened?
MR. SNOW: Look, I agree, Martha. You’re not getting me to —
Q But I mean more so the investigation, or people saying, it’s okay, they were just “”overly friendly emails,”” even though he asked for a picture.
MR. SNOW: I think — you know what, I think people need to find out what the — first, Representative Foley has resigned. Second, the House is going to have to figure out how to respond to this.Third, you’re absolutely right, the American people need confidence that this sort of thing is not tolerated, and that affirmative steps will be taken to make sure it doesn’t happen again. That’s a Capitol Hill matter right now. For those of us working in the White House, we’re horrified when we hear stories like this.
Q Is that the President’s view?
MR. SNOW: Yes, absolutely.
Q But if the House leadership essentially dismissed something like overly friendly emails and didn’t investigate further, that’s acceptable?
MR. SNOW: As I said, let’s see what the documentary trail is.You’re asking me an impressionistic question. Until I have more data — no, and I’m serious, because —
Q Do you know anything from the Speaker, does the White House have any —
MR. SNOW: I had a brief conversation today with the Speaker’s office, and I was told the Speaker will answer the questions. Wait until the Speaker answers the question and come back.
Q But did you get them answered? Because we’re not going to be able to come back today and talk to you.
MR. SNOW: You can — well, no, I’ll be on the road today. Let me put it this way — let me just be clear, once again. I thought I was clear, but I’ll be clear again. Young men and women who are sent to Capitol Hill — let me repeat myself — for the privilege of serving in our government ought to be exposed to the noblest traditions of American government, and not to the kind of behavior that was outlined in the emails, period, exclamation point. Put the exclamation point before the period, just for emphasis.
Q — sending overly friendly emails.
Q Should that have not happened in the Republican leadership so much earlier? If you’re calling this horrifying, these allegations are horrifying, and it comes out now — it seems that there is somebody who dropped the ball in there, whether you know who, what, when, where and why, exactly now. Somebody is —
MR. SNOW: Then you’ve drawn that conclusion.
Q Tony, what does the President know? What does he know about the emails? Has he spoken to the Speaker, actually spoken to Hastert?
MR. SNOW: I do not believe he’s spoken to the Speaker — look, the House has to clean up the mess, to the extent that there’s a mess. The President is not responsible for going back and conducting his own personal investigation on this. The House has an obligation, and House members, I think, are talking pretty vociferously about this on both sides of the aisle.
Let’s figure out what the facts are, let’s figure out what people are doing.I know everybody wants a rush — to come in with a conclusion, a rock’em, sock’em conclusion. The behavior was reprehensible. I don’t know how much further I can go. I know that you want me to come out and have a definitive statement, but I think as reporters, you understand that perhaps before one draws a definitive conclusion about how one ought to talk about the Speaker, Republican leadership, we need to see the documents.I haven’t seen the documents; to the best of my knowledge the President hasn’t. Speaker Hastert will be available, he’ll be able to answer the questions.
Q Did Mr. Rove or the political arm know about this?
MR. SNOW: No.
Q Should voters, in the election a month from now, hold the Republican Party accountable for not just one, but four members of the senior leadership in the House resigning in the last year?
MR. SNOW: I’m going to let voters decide that.