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U.S. congressional ethics panel begins probe of lawmaker's e-mails

U.S. congressional ethics panel begins probe of lawmaker's e-mails

The House of Representatives' Ethics Committee opened an investigation Thursday into the unfolding scandal over Rep. Mark Foley's come-ons to congressional interns and accusations even by some Republicans that House speaker Dennis Hastert failed to protect the teens.
The committee, evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats, sat in closed session to take up a matter that imperils Hastert's leadership and has stirred extraordinary Republican infighting with elections barely a month away.
All 435 seats in the House are at stake in the Nov. 7 voting and the Democrats have a good chance of wresting control of the chamber from the Republicans. As speaker Hastert, one of the most powerful men in Washington, sets the House legislative agenda.
Leaders of the ethics panel said they would speak publicly about the session afterwards.
Hastert asserted that any Republicans urging his ouster are playing into the hands of Democrats and blamed his problems on the media and Democratic operatives, even suggesting former President Bill Clinton might somehow be involved.
"All I know is what I hear and what I see," he said in an interview with the Chicago Tribune on the eve of the ethics meeting. "I saw Bill Clinton's adviser, Richard Morris, was saying these guys knew about this all along, If somebody had this info, when they had it, we could have dealt with it then."
Hastert said "people funded by George Soros," a liberal billionaire who has plowed millions into this and other election campaigns, want to see the scandal blow up. And he warned that when the Republican "base finds out who's feeding this monster, they're not going to be happy."
An extraordinary political spectacle surrounded the committee's first meeting since Foley's resignation and the fallout that followed. Some leading Republicans publicly blamed Hastert for failing to take action after he was warned about the messages to the interns,known as pages. And a former Foley aide said he told Republican leaders about the Florida congressman's conduct years earlier than they have acknowledged.
With Republicans concerned about maintaining their congressional majority in the Nov 7 elections, support for Hastert was ebbing. Republican officials said at least a few disgruntled members of the Republican rank and file had discussed whether to call on the speaker to step aside. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity, citing the sensitivity of the issue.
Hastert himself apparently was torn over how to proceed. Although he repeatedly has said he would not step down, he was reported to have told a conservative activist and critic that he might consider such a move to spare the party further problems.
Paul Weyrich quoted Hastert as telling him in a phone call Wednesday that "if he thought that resigning would be helpful to the Republicans maintaining the majority, he would do it," Congressional Quarterly reported.
In Atlanta, former page Tyson Vivyan, now 26, told AP he received sexually suggestive computer messages in 1997, years before the communications exposed last week, from an anonymous sender who turned out to be Foley.
Vivyan said he visited Foley's brownstone at the congressman's invitation, bringing another page with him because he did not want to go alone. They had pizza and soft drinks, and nothing sexual happened, he said.
Rep. John. J. Duncan had sponsored Vivyan as a page. His deputy chief of staff, Don Walker, said Thursday his office had heard nothing of Vivyan's contact with Foley until Monday. "As soon as we learned of it we turned it over to the authorities." Vivyan said the FBI interviewed him this week.
Foley's attorney, David Roth, declined to comment Thursday on the allegations from the former page.
Hastert announced that a tip line had been activated for people to call if they have information on Foley or any problems with the page program.
The Justice Department ordered House officials to preserve all records related to Foley's electronic correspondence with teenagers. The request for record preservation is often followed by search warrants and subpoenas, and signal that investigators are moving closer to a criminal investigation.
Kirk Fordham, the former Foley aide, said in an interview with The Associated Press that more than three years ago he had "more than one conversation with senior staff at the highest level of the House of Representatives asking them to intervene." He declined to identify them, but officials said Scott Palmer, Hastert's chief of staff, was one of them. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter.
Palmer said through a spokesman, "What Kirk Fordham said did not happen."
Fordham resigned Wednesday as chief of staff to Rep. Thomas Reynolds, the House Republican campaign chief who says he alerted Hastert to concerns about Foley last spring.
Fordham 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.
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On the Net:
http://www.house.gov/ethics


Updated : 2021-07-26 05:01 GMT+08:00