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Aide says he told Hastert's office about Foley's conduct more than 3 years ago

Aide says he told Hastert's office about Foley's conduct more than 3 years ago

The political support of the leader of the House of Representatives showed signs of cracking as fellow Republicans fled an election-year scandal spawned by salacious computer messages from disgraced Congressman Mark Foley to teenage male pages.
At the same time, a congressional aide who last week urged Foley to quit said in an Associated Press interview he first warned Speaker Dennis Hastert's aides more than three years ago about Foley's worrisome conduct toward pages _ teenagers who work as messengers. That was long before party leaders acknowledged hearing of it.
The aide, Kirk Fordham, said he had "more than one conversation with senior staff at the highest level of the House of Representatives asking them to intervene" at the time.
The claim drew a swift, unequivocal denial Wednesday from Hastert's chief of staff. "What Kirk said did not happen," Scott Palmer told reporters in the Capitol.
Fordham made his comments as Congressman Roy Blunt, the party's third-ranking leader, pointedly told reporters he would have handled the matter differently from Hastert, had he known of it.
"I think I could have given some good advice here, which is you have to be curious, you have to ask all the questions you can think of," said Blunt, who was acting majority leader at the time Hastert was told of overly friendly e-mails from Foley to one page. "You absolutely can't decide not to look into activities because one individual's parents don't want you to."
Congressman Ron Lewis, embroiled in a tougher-than-expected re-election race, abruptly canceled an invitation for Hastert to join him at a fundraiser next week.
"I'm taking the speaker's words at face value," Lewis told the AP. "I have no reason to doubt him. But until this is cleared up, I want to know the facts. If anyone in our leadership has done anything wrong, then I will be the first in line to condemn it."
Republican officials said at least a few disgruntled members of the party's rank and file had discussed whether to call on the speaker to step aside. It was not known how far the effort had gone. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity, citing the sensitivity of the issue.
Hastert told the Chicago Tribune on Wednesday night that he has no thoughts of resigning. He blamed ABC News, which broke the Foley e-mail story, and Democratic operatives for the mushrooming scandal.
The political furor that has occurred over Foley's activities, and how they were dealt with by party leaders, mainly Hastert, has added new problems for Republicans in the Nov. 7 congressional elections.
All 435 House seats and 33 of the 100 in the Senate are up for election, as well as 36 state governors. Largely because of the Iraq war, probable voters are indicating to pollsters that President George W. Bush's Republicans are likely to lose seats.
Hastert's spokesman, Ron Bonjean, declined to comment on the claim made by Fordham, saying the issue had been referred to the House ethics committee. "We fully expect that the bipartisan panel will do what it needs to do to investigate this mater and protect the integrity of the House," he said.
Fordham resigned Wednesday as chief of staff to Congressman Thomas Reynolds, the House Republican campaign chief who says he alerted Hastert to concerns about Foley last spring.
Fordham, a longtime Capitol Hill aide, said that more than three years ago, he repeatedly asked Republican staffers to intervene with Foley. He declined to identify them, but officials said Palmer, Hastert's chief of staff, was one of them. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss it.
He also disputed allegations that he covered up any misdeeds by Foley. "At no point ever did I ask anyone to block any inquiries," said Fordham, who was Foley's longtime chief of staff until leaving in January 2004.
He said he intends to fully disclose to the FBI and the House ethics committee "any and all meetings and phone calls" about Foley that he had with senior aides in the House leadership.
House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi issued a statement that said Hastert and the rest of the Republican leaders should be "immediately questioned under oath" by the panel.
"The children, their parents, the public and our colleagues deserve answers, and those who covered up Mark Foley's behavior must be held accountable," she said.
Foley, 52, a Florida Republican, resigned Friday after he was confronted with sexually explicit electronic messages he had sent teenage male pages. He has since entered an alcohol rehabilitation facility at an undisclosed location. Through his lawyer, he denied having had sexual contact with minors.
His abrupt departure left behind a virtual sex scandal that has shaken Republican confidence, and poll numbers, little more than a month before elections at which their control of the House will be tested. Democrats could take control of the chamber by picking up 15 seats.
It also plunged Hastert and others into an intensive effort to grapple with conflicting claims and memories about what senior lawmakers knew, when they learned it and what they did about it.
The Justice Department has ordered House officials to "preserve all records" related to Foley's electronic correspondence with teenagers, and one law enforcement official said FBI agents have begun interviewing participants in the House page program. It was not clear whether those questioned were current or former pages, or both.
Separately, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement has begun a preliminary inquiry.


Updated : 2021-07-31 05:44 GMT+08:00