Scott G. Winterton, Deseret Morning News
Rep. Chris Cannon said he did not mean to place the blame on the page involved.

OREM — Comments made by Rep. Chris Cannon, R-Utah, have provided additional fuel for the fire heating up the cybersex scandal that led to the resignation of U.S. Rep. Mark Foley, R-Fla.

In a radio interview that aired Thursday on KSL Radio's Nightside Project, Cannon said "precocious" pages may have been "egging this guy on." Foley is accused of sending sexually charged instant messages to a teenage male congressional page.

Cannon attempted Friday to clarify his remarks.

"I used the word precocious on purpose ... by that, I meant a kid who is smarter than other kids his age," Cannon told the Deseret Morning News. "He's also not naive. I used it in the context that they know more than I did at that age."

Leaders of Utah's Democratic Party expressed disdain for Cannon's statements.

Alyson Heyrend, spokeswoman for 2nd District Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, said she had "no idea where (Cannon) was coming from" with those statements and that they speak for themselves.

Christian Burridge, Cannon's Democratic opponent in the November election for Utah's 3rd Congressional District seat, said he was "disappointed" by Cannon's comments.

"This is an issue where we need to get to the truth of the matter," Burridge said, adding that Cannon's implication that the page may have induced Foley to send the messages was "irresponsible and outrageous."

"These kids are sent away from their parents, and the leaders of the Congress become their stewards and become responsible for them," Burridge said.

The suggestion that the page may have pulled Foley into the exchange as a prank has been floated in some circles this week, but has not been substantiated.

Cannon said he did not mean to place the blame on the young man involved.

"It's not wrong of the kids, it's wrong of the man who was in a position of power," he said. "There is nothing here that isn't Foley's fault; the entire matter is his fault."

Cannon said he was trying to send the message that young people, given their intelligence and technological savvy, need to exercise great care online. He called for parents to place greater emphasis on teaching their children how to be safe in the electronic world.

"The problem here is not that we have kids who are precocious, but that they're precocious in an environment of predators," Cannon said.

Cannon said he felt he had explained what he meant in the context of the interview in which he initially made the comments.

"I'd like to hear the whole tape," he said. "I think I said what I'm saying here, but taken in pieces, it sounds harsh. But on the bright side, it allows us to draw attention to this issue."

Cannon's comments also stirred debate at the national level. He appeared on CNN's Situation Room Friday, interviewed by Wolf Blitzer.

Much of the controversy in the wake of Foley's resignation last Friday has focused on House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., who has been accused of knowing Foley had made inappropriate contact with pages prior to this incident becoming public.

Cannon said calls for Hastert's resignation are "premature," and that an investigation into the matter needs to run its course.

Burridge said any investigation into Foley's actions needs to focus on the involvement of the Republican Party leadership.

"We need to find out who knew, and when they knew it," he said.


Contributing: Suzanne Struglinski

E-mail: jtwitchell@desnews.com