Lurid, explicit e-mails and instant messages to underage congressional pages may have ended former Florida Rep. Mark Foley's political career, but he may never face criminal charges.
FBI and Florida state officials are investigating whether Foley, 52, violated any laws with his communication with young pages.
Foley, who represented Florida for 12 years in Congress and was best known as a protector of children as chairman of the Missing and Exploited Children's Caucus, resigned Sept. 29 after ABC News questioned him about sexually explicit online messages he had sent to current and former congressional pages under the age of 18.
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Despite Foley's resignation -- and the potential political fallout of the scandal surrounding his Internet messages -- experts say it may be difficult for investigators to bring a criminal case against the disgraced former congressman.
"Based upon what I've seen, he had inappropriate communication with underage pages, but I haven't seen anything -- no specific action -- where Foley specifically solicited anyone to commit unlawful acts," said California-based defense lawyer Steve Cron.
"It sounded more like it was childish teasing, titillating communication that was meant to excite and entertain. Was what he did immoral and duplicitous, considering he had a reputation as such a family, law-and-order type of guy? Sure. But I'm not convinced he committed a crime," Cron said.
At least one former page, according to ABC News' Brian Ross Unit, has reportedly offered evidence that Foley sought to solicit sex during instant-message exchanges over the Internet.
Officials told ABC News that they suspected Foley's extensive knowledge of child-exploitation laws might have helped guide him as to how far he could go without violating the law.
Instant messages obtained by ABC News suggest that Foley met or arranged meetings with former male pages under the age of 18.
One instant message from Foley, who used the screen name "Maf54," indicates that he met a page in San Diego, but it does not reveal specifically what transpired between them:
Maf54: I miss you lots since san diego.
Teen: ya I cant wait til dc
Teen: did you pick a night for dinner
Maf54: not yet … but likely Friday
Teen: ok … ill plan for Friday then
Maf54: that will be fun
Other instant-message exchanges provided to ABC News by former congressional pages were more sexually explicit. But observers say investigators will need more than graphic innuendo to bring a case against Foley.
They will need a message or exchange that shows a specific, clear solicitation of sex from Foley to a minor.
"Based on what has been disclosed, there is no actionable crime here," said Ronald Carlson, a professor at the University of Georgia School of Law. "Right now, this all falls in the realm of plenty of voyeurism. The law is not very cognizant of what you yearn for in your mind; it applies to what you act upon."
Perhaps Foley could face charges for serving alcohol to a minor.
Another instant-message exchange in April 2003 obtained by ABC News suggested that Foley had set up a meeting with a page and had offered him alcohol:
Maf54: then we can have a few drinks
Teen: yes yes ;-)
Maf54: your not old enough to drink
Teen: thats not what my ID says