A US Republican congressman abruptly resigned from Congress in the wake of questions about several e-mails that he wrote to a former teenage male page.
"I am deeply sorry and I apologize for letting down my family and the people of Florida I have had the privilege to represent," Congressman Mark Foley said in a statement issued by his office on Friday.
Six hours after his resignation letter was read to the House by a clerk, the chairman of a panel that oversees the page program issued a one-page written statement that deflected any blame from House leaders.
The statement from US Republican Congressman John Shimkus said the House Page Board he chairs investigated the allegations late last year, but he said Foley "was not honest" in denying improper conduct with the teenager.
Pages are high school students who attend classes under congressional supervision and work as messengers.
The House voted to have its ethics committee consider whether to investigate further. The leader of the committee, Democratic Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, said the committee should determine who knew of the messages, whether Foley had other contacts with pages and when the Republican leadership was notified of Foley's conduct.
His departure sent Republicans scrambling for a replacement candidate less than six weeks before the Nov. 7 congressional elections in which Democrats are making a strong bid to gain control of the US House of Representatives.
Foley's two-sentence statement gave no reason for his decision to abandon a flourishing career in Congress.
But several officials said that he tendered his resignation as fresh details emerged about electronic messages he had sent.
Foley, as chairman of the Missing and Exploited Children's Caucus, had introduced legislation in July to protect children from exploitation by adults over the Internet. He also once accused the Supreme Court of "siding with pedophiles over children."
The 52-year-old had been considered a shoo-in for a new term until the e-mail correspondence surfaced in recent days.
His resignation further complicates the political landscape for Republicans, who are fighting to retain control of Congress. Democrats need to win a net of 15 Republican seats to regain the power they lost in 1994.
Campaign aides had previously acknowledged that the Republican congressman e-mailed the former page five times, but had said there was nothing inappropriate about the exchange. The page was 16 at the time the e-mail correspondence occurred.
Congressman Rodney Alexander, a Louisiana Republican who sponsored the page from his district, told reporters that he learned of the e-mails from a reporter some months ago and passed on the information to Congressman Thomas Reynolds, the chairman of the Republican campaign organization for the House of Representatives.