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GOP prods Democrats over Foley scandal

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Faced with fending off the backlash from the Mark Foley scandal, House Republicans took the offensive Friday, asking Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and other Democrats to testify about whether they engaged in partisan trickery by releasing Foley's messages weeks before the midterm elections.

Top GOP leaders -- including House Speaker Dennis Hastert, of Illinois, and Majority Leader John Boehner, of Ohio -- have accused the Democrats of knowing about Foley's correspondences with teen pages, and waiting to release them until it was politically advantageous.

Foley, a Republican who represented a Florida district for six terms, resigned abruptly September 29 as allegations surfaced that he exchanged inappropriate e-mails and lurid text messages with underage pages. (Watch how the Foley scandal could 'chill' the GOP base -- 2:16 Video)

Democratic candidates are using the scandal as fodder in their campaign ads. Candidate Baron Hill, of Indiana, criticized Rep. Mike Sodrel, R-Indiana, for refusing to return contributions "from the House leadership who knew about but did nothing to stop sexual predator Congressman Foley." (Full story)

Foley's attorney said this week that his client acknowledges inappropriate exchanges with teen pages, but he "never, ever had an inappropriate sexual contact with a minor in his life."

Candidate Patty Wetterling, of Minnesota, who is in a tight race against Republican Michelle Bachmann, also focused on an alleged cover-up, according to a radio address she released to Reuters.

In it, she said, "In Washington we must hold accountable all those complicit in allowing this victimization to happen," according to Reuters.

Pelosi, a California Democrat, also lobbed the accusation Thursday, saying, "Those who covered up Mark Foley's behavior must be held accountable," Reuters reported.

Suspicion of a cover-up is common across the nation. In a Time magazine poll of 1,002 voting-age adults this week, 80 percent were aware of the scandal. Of those, two-thirds suspected a cover-up by GOP leaders, and only 16 percent approved of how Republicans handled the scandal. (Full storyexternal link)

In a letter to Pelosi, which also was sent to Democratic Party Chairman Howard Dean, Rep. Jack Kingston, R-Georgia, asked them to disclose whether Democrats played a role in publicizing Foley's correspondences.

"Just as it must be determined whether any Republican members or political operatives were aware of and attempted to conceal Mr. Foley's activities, it must also be determined whether any Democrat members or political operatives were aware of and attempted to conceal these same activities," Kingston wrote in a letter signed by 10 other GOP lawmakers.

Hastert has been on the front line of the fallout since he and other top Republicans were accused of knowing before 2005 about an "overly friendly" e-mail Foley sent to a teenage page. A conservative Washington newspaper even called for the speaker's resignation, a demand Hastert rebuffed.

In a speech Thursday in Batavia, Illinois, Hastert said he had "done nothing wrong" and refused to step down. He also suggested the timing of the release of the messages was a Democratic ploy to get the upper hand in November elections.

"Our friends on the other side of the aisle really don't have a story to tell, and maybe they're resolving to another way, to another political tactic," he said.

Hastert has asked the FBI to investigate, and the House Ethics Committee launched its own probe Thursday and authorized four dozen subpoenas. (Watch how the Foley scandal has changed the political landscape -- 2:10 Video)

Top GOP leaders, including Boehner and Majority Whip Roy Blunt, of Missouri, have rushed to Hastert's defense. Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, wrote a letter supporting Hastert, saying it was inappropriate to ask for the speaker's resignation when similar scandals in the 1980s prompted a "dramatically different standard."

Barton was referring to Democrat Rep. Gerry Studds of Massachusetts and Republican Rep. Dan Crane of Illinois, both of whom were censured after having sexual relationships with 17-year-old pages. Crane lost his re-election bid, while Studds survived the scandal.

"No Democrat demanded prescience from Speaker Tip O'Neill, and no Democrat shouted for his resignation. Neither did any Republican," Barton wrote. "The focus was on the members who created the problem, as it should have been and as it should be now."

In a statement accompanying his letter to Pelosi, Kingston wrote that the Foley matter "should not be a partisan issue."

"All members of the House, our staff, and members of the public regardless of political party should come forward and provide whatever information they know," he wrote.

CNN's Tracy Sabo, Deirdre Walsh and Laura Dolan contributed to this report.

Rep. Jack Kingston, R-Georgia, wrote a letter to top Democrats asking if they helped conceal messages between Rep. Mark Foley and teen pages.

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