CBS and Fox uncritically reported FBI's claims that CREW failed to provide enough info for Foley investigation

››› ››› SIMON MALOY

An article on CBS News' website and a segment on Fox News' Special Report reported the FBI's claim that it did not launch an investigation of former Rep. Mark Foley after the nonprofit group CREW provided the FBI copies of sexually suggestive emails Foley allegedly sent to an underage former congressional page, because CREW refused to provide further information about the emails. Neither CBS nor Fox News, however, gave any indication that they asked CREW to respond to the FBI's allegation. Nor did they note that CREW executive director Melanie Sloan has stated that the FBI never contacted her after she sent the emails and never asked for further information.

UPDATE: CBSNews.com has since updated its October 4 article to include CREW's position. It now reads:

The Justice Department told CBSNews that in July, when Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) provided the "innocuous" e-mails to the FBI, they were heavily redacted. CREW adamantly denies that and says they provided an FBI agent with complete, unredacted e-mails.

The Justice Department also said that the FBI asked CREW to go back to its source and ask for more information so it could follow up, but CREW refused. That's why the FBI, Justuice [sic] said, did nothing further at that time. CREW says the FBI made no such follow-up requests for more information at any time. An FBI agent did place one clarifying phone call on the day CREW turned over the e-mails to double-check that Mark Foley was the congressman involved, CREW said.

Editor's Note: An earlier version of this story failed to present CREW's account. That was a mistake for which we apologize.

CREW released a statement on October 5 regarding the CBSNews.com article, which read, in part:

CBS News has reported that according to the FBI when CREW gave the Bureau the original set of emails from Rep. Mark Foley to a former House page, they were "heavily redacted." The FBI is also claiming that it came back to CREW and asked for more information so that it could follow up, but that CREW refused to provide anything further. Reporters from several other news organizations have repeated this allegation. The FBI is lying.

On Monday, October 2, CREW sent a letter to the DOJ I.G.'s office, attaching exact copies of the emails CREW had sent to the FBI on July 21, 2006. Both the former page's name and the person to whom the page forwarded Rep. Foley's emails were clearly visible. Moreover, after CREW sent the emails to the FBI, CREW's only subsequent contact with the Bureau was one telephone call from the special agent to whom CREW had sent the material confirming that the emails were from Rep. Foley. CREW had no further contact with the FBI.

An October 4 CBSNews.com article, written by CBS producer Beverley Lumpkin, uncritically reported the FBI's claim that it did not launch an investigation of former Rep. Mark Foley (R-FL) after the nonprofit group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) provided the FBI copies of sexually suggestive emails Foley reportedly sent to an underage former congressional page, because the copies of the emails CREW sent "were heavily redacted" and CREW "refused" to "go back to its source and ask for more information." Similarly, Fox News congressional correspondent Major Garrett, on the October 4 edition of Special Report with Brit Hume, reported that an anonymous "senior federal law enforcement official told Fox the emails did not suggest criminal activity and that [CREW executive director Melanie] Sloan's group would not provide information on the source of the emails or the page who received them." Neither CBS nor Fox News, however, gave any indication that they asked CREW to respond to the FBI's allegation. Nor did they note Sloan's statement from October 2, in which she wrote that the FBI never contacted her after she sent the emails and never asked for further information.

According to its website, on October 2, CREW sent a letter to the Justice Department asking why the FBI failed to act after CREW sent the bureau a copy of Foley's alleged email exchange with the underage former page. The version of the exchange available on CREW's website has been redacted to hide the email address and identity of the recipient of Foley's emails. It is unknown whether the copies CREW sent to the FBI concealed the identity of the recipient. However, in an October 2 statement, Sloan stated that she had sent to emails to the FBI and confirmed their receipt, but never heard back from the FBI on the matter:

As a result, after reviewing the emails, I called a special agent in the Washington Field Office of the FBI. I explained what I had received and said that I wanted to pass them along. By email, I then sent copies of the emails to the agent. By telephone, the agent confirmed that she had received them and understood them to be email exchanges between Mark Foley and a young man.

I never heard back from the FBI, but I did not expect to. The FBI cannot share the fruits of its investigation with someone who is not in law enforcement. Nonetheless, I was surprised to learn this morning that the FBI was just beginning an investigation today -- meaning that they had not begun an investigation when I sent them the emails back in July.

Lumpkin, however, in her October 4 article, made no mention of Sloan's statement, nor did she indicate that CBS had even contacted CREW for a response. Lumpkin's own report gives reason to doubt the FBI's interest in moving quickly: According to Lumpkin, the Justice Department didn't get around to sending a "preservation letter" -- requesting "that the House Counsel ensure the preservation in Foley's office of all documentation, computers and electronic files" -- to the House until October 4:

The "preservation letter" that went up to the Hill this morning was signed by U.S. Attorney Jeff Taylor and addressed to the House Counsel. The letter requested that the House Counsel ensure the preservation in Foley's office of all documentation, computers and electronic files.

[...]

In July, when Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) provided the "innocuous" emails to the FBI, they were heavily redacted.

The FBI asked CREW to go back to its source and ask for more information so it could follow up, but CREW refused. That's why the FBI did nothing further at that time.

Garrett's report on the October 4 edition of Fox News' Special Report with Brit Hume featured several statements from Sloan but made no mention of Sloan's October 2 statement and featured no response to the allegations from the anonymous "senior federal law enforcement official":

GARRETT: Meanwhile, an ethics watchdog group that in July gave the FBI copies of Foley's emails to a 16-year-old page charged the Justice Department with dropping the ball by failing to conduct an investigation back then.

SLOAN: That's why I went to the FBI, so they could investigate. Someone had said, well, there was no probable cause to do anything. Well, you don't need probable cause to commence an investigation. All you need is the suspicion that there's wrongdoing.

GARRETT: In the emails, Foley asked for the boy's picture and what he wanted for his birthday. Sloan said the boy's description of the emails as, quote, "sick", unquote, should have provoked a criminal inquiry.

SLOAN: And these emails really shows all the hallmark of an exchange between a sexual predator and a young man who is uncomfortable with what's happening.

GARRETT: The FBI said the matter was under investigation and had no further comments. A senior federal law enforcement official told Fox the emails did not suggest criminal activity and that Sloan's group would not provide information on the source of the emails or the page who received them.

Network/Outlet
Fox News Channel, CBS
Person
Major Garrett
Show/Publication
Special Report with Brit Hume
Stories/Interests
Mark Foley Scandal
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