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Ethics panel approves subpoenas in new investigation of House page scandal; House leader reasserts he is remaining in job

Ethics panel approves subpoenas in new investigation of House page scandal; House leader reasserts he is remaining in job

The House of Representatives Ethics Committee opened an expansive investigation into the unfolding page sex scandal Thursday, approving nearly four dozen subpoenas for witnesses and documents as the Republican leader of the House held his ground against pressure to resign.
"I'm deeply sorry this has happened and the bottom line is we're taking responsibility," House Speaker Dennis Hastert told at a news conference.
"Ultimately, the buck stops here," the speaker said of the controversy enveloping the House, former Republican Rep. Mark Foley and the page program, a venerable institution almost as old as the Congress itself.
Hastert was abruptly changing the tactics he has followed since the scandal broke last week in the wake of the disclosures and Foley's resignation. Foley since has entered an alcohol rehabilitation facility in Florida. As recently as Wednesday, Hastert had blamed Democrats for the scandal and insisted he had done nothing wrong.
The political uproar erupted five weeks before Nov. 7 congressional elections in which all 435 seats in the House are at stake. Democrats stand a good chance of wresting control of the chamber from the Republicans.
The committee's chairman, Rep. Doc Hastings said a newly formed subcommittee's investigation "will go wherever our evidence leads us."
Asked if embattled Hastert was among those subpoenaed, Hastings would not comment. Hastings said the subpoenas cover lawmakers and staff as well as appointed officers of the House.
Hastert spokesman Ron Bonjean said the speaker has not received a subpoena from the ethics committee but was willing to testify. "If the ethics committee asks him to, of course," Bonjean said.
The committee's senior Democrat, Rep. Howard Berman of California, said the investigation should take "weeks, not months."
Hastert praised the committee's actions and said he would instruct his attorney to cooperate with the panel "in getting to the bottom of this."
"The committee is moving to get control of this situation and find answers to provide all of us peace of mind," he said in a statement earlier.
"Any person who is found guilty of improper conduct involving sexual contact or communication with a page should immediately resign, be fired, or subjected to a vote of expulsion," Hastert said, speaking outside an office in his home state of Illinois.
Hastert was asked about Foley's former chief of staff saying in an interview with The Associated Press that he had talked three years ago with top aides in the speaker's office about Foley's behavior with pages.
"You know, it's interesting," Hastert said. "Kirk Fordham also said just about three or four days ago that he worked for this guy for 10 years and he never did anything wrong. So there's a little bit of difference in the testimony or what he said."
Hastert was said by officials in advance of the speaker's news conference to have planned to ask former FBI Director Louis Freeh to also examine the page system and make recommendations. But that did not immediately materialize, and Hastert did not broach Freeh's name at his news conference.
Congressional aides said Hastert called House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi to suggest Freeh, but that Pelosi objected.
Hastings said the subpoenas cover lawmakers and staff as well as appointed officers of the House.
As Hastert huddled with aides earlier Thursday, the ethics panel opened its investigation into Foley's computer-message advances to teenage congressional pages and accusations _ even by some Republicans _ that House leaders failed to protect the teens.
The swift-moving developments came as a furor mounted over the revelations about Foley and his resignation last Friday. Negative fallout for Republicans struggling to keep control of Congress was apparent in the latest AP-Ipsos poll, conducted this week after the Foley revelations surfaced.
About half of likely voters said recent disclosures of corruption and scandal in Congress will be very or extremely important in their vote next month, and Democrats enjoyed a nearly 2-to-1 advantage as the party better able to fight corruption.
Some leading Republicans have publicly blamed Hastert for failing to take action after he was warned about the messages. 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 elections, support for Hastert was ebbing. Republican officials said at least a few disgruntled members of the GOP 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.
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On the Net:
http://www.house.gov/ethics
BC-Congress-Pages, insert


Updated : 2021-05-14 04:06 GMT+08:00