NEW YORK – Even today, two years after Mark Foley's very public fall from grace, the former congressman can't explain why he sent lurid, sexually explicit computer messages to male teens who had worked as Capitol Hill pages.
"I'm trying to find my way back," Foley said in an interview with The Associated Press, his first public comments on the scandal since resigning from Congress on Sept. 29, 2006.
Foley insists he did nothing illegal and never had sexual contact with teens, just inappropriate Internet conversations. Investigations by the FBI and Florida authorities ended without criminal charges.
And while he concedes his behavior was "extraordinarily stupid," he remains somewhat unwilling to accept full public scorn.
These were 17-year-olds, just months from being men, he insists.
"There was never anywhere in those conversations where someone said, 'Stop,' or 'I'm not enjoying this,' or 'This is inappropriate' ... but again, I'm the adult here, I'm the congressman," Foley said. "The fact is I allowed it to happen. That's where my responsibility lies."
Foley had built a national reputation as an advocate for tougher penalties against child sexual predators. As co-chairman of the Congressional Missing and Exploited Children's Caucus, he helped craft a law to protect children on the Internet.
Still, he said, there was no hypocrisy.
"The work I was doing was involving young children ... You know, you hear the term 'pedophile.' That is prepubescent," Foley said, noting a "huge difference" from lurid chats with teens on the brink of adulthood.
"At the end of the day, they were instant messages that were extraordinarily inappropriate," he added, breathing a heavy sigh, his eyes wandering toward the ceiling.
So why talk now? Sympathy? Forgiveness?
Just to free himself from the media clamoring for his first interview.
"I believed I owed my constituents an apology," Foley said. "I embarrassed them and I embarrassed my family and I wanted to have a chance in a public setting to lend my voice to what happened, not through an attorney, not through a spokesperson, but from myself."
Today, he's a pariah in Congress and the Republican Party. The affable man who reveled in the spotlight finds himself branded a pedophile, at best, a creep. Three former staffers refused comment because of their disgust with his behavior. He makes his living investing in real estate and other business.
"In public life, you dream of the day they'll name a hospital after you, or a bridge or a post office," Foley said, twisting a gold band on his ring finger identical to one his high-society dermatologist boyfriend wears.
"If I had a post office named after me today, they'd probably return to sender," he said. "It's not a pleasant place to be. It's not what I envisioned ... working this hard all my life to end up in an ash heap because of a momentary lapse of judgment."
But Foley carried on the computer conversations for months, asking about masturbation, sex, and other details.
Shortly after his resignation, his attorney announced that Foley was gay and an alcoholic and had been molested by a priest as a teenage altar boy in Florida. Foley then checked himself into a treatment facility.
"I loved my early life, and then along comes a priest ... who forces me into a sexual relationship at the age of 12. And right shortly thereafter, I fail eighth grade, I start drugs, I start drinking, I start smoking," he said. "My entire life ... implodes."
He was elected to the U.S. House in 1994 as a popular hometown boy who kept busy in glitzy Palm Beach, Fla., attending lavish parties and fundraisers with the likes of Donald Trump, Jay Leno, and actress Bo Derek.
While his homosexuality was said to be the worst-kept secret on the Hill and around Palm Beach, he cloaked himself in a false public persona, appearing at events with beautiful women.
He drank a lot and spiraled into darkness.
"Those demons that were inside me, by not addressing them, caused me to spin out of control," he said.
He doesn't feel fully responsible for Democrats taking over the House in 2006, but owns up to his role and calls his behavior "profoundly regrettable."
"They had the Republicans on a number of ethical scandals and, you know, I served up for them the moral dilemma," he said.
A Republican won back Foley's congressional district last week after the Democrat who replaced him was caught in an adultery scandal. It's become known as "The Curse of the Mark Foley Seat."
"It's not what I had hoped would be my lasting legacy," he said, pausing to brush away tears.
So what does the man who once was such a popular figure in politics and high-society do now?
"I don't know. I don't know," he said. "I'm just going to take it a day at a time."