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Ethics committee approves four dozen subpoenas in congressional pages investigation

Ethics committee approves four dozen subpoenas in congressional pages investigation

The House of Representatives ethics committee has approved almost four dozen subpoenas in opening its investigation of a sex scandal involving a congressman and male pages that a new poll shows is jeopardizing the Republicans' control of Congress.
The House speaker, Dennis Hastert, one of Washington's most powerful men, said Thursday he accepted responsibility for failures to investigate earlier complaints of resigned Rep. Mark Foley's inappropriate conduct toward teenage pages. Hastert still resisted pressure to step down himself.
"Ultimately ... the buck stops here," the Republican speaker said, borrowing the famous phrase of a Democratic president, Harry Truman.
An Associated Press-Ipsos poll out Thursday showed that, with congressional elections less than five weeks away, about half of likely voters said disclosures of corruption and scandal in Congress will be very or extremely important when they enter the voting booth on Nov. 7. That group is much more likely to vote Democratic.
About two out of three of those voters said they would cast their ballots for Democrats in races for the 435 House of Representatives seats, further complicating the political landscape for Republicans already struggling against negative public perceptions from earlier brushes with corruption.
Hastert held to his assertion that he did not know about Republican Foley's e-mails and instant messages to former pages until the scandal broke last week. In the past several days, several Republican lawmakers and staff members said they were aware of the messages. Democrats were not notified.
The ethics committee promised to finish its investigation in weeks, not months, but it was unclear whether that would occur before the election. Hastert's handling of the issue has brought harsh criticism from some fellow Republicans and conservative activists.
Hastert got a boost Thursday evening from President Bush, who called and expressed his support.
"The president thanked him for going out and making a clear public statement that said the House leadership takes responsibility and is accountable," White House deputy press secretary Dana Perino said. "He said he appreciated that when they got the information, they swiftly took action making clear that Rep. Foley should step down and promptly requested a Department of Justice investigation. And he expressed his support for the speaker."
The speaker, at a news conference, mixed a newfound contriteness with defiance.
"Could we have done it better? Could the page board have handled it better? In retrospect, probably yes. But, at the time, what we knew and what we acted upon was what we had."
He also vowed to win re-election from his constituency and to run for House speaker again.
While the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct _ the ethics committee _ is investigating potential violations of House rules, the Justice Department appeared to be moving with dispatch in a criminal investigation.
Timothy Heaphy, a lawyer for ex-Foley chief of staff Kirk Fordham, said his client had just met with the FBI. Fordham emerged as a key figure Wednesday when he told reporters that he had talked three years ago with top aides to Hastert about Foley's conduct with pages. His comments pushed back the time when information may have reached the speaker's office.
The FBI also contacted a former congressional page from Kentucky, an aide to a Kentucky congressman said.
Daniel London, chief of staff to Rep. Ron Lewis, said Lewis' Washington office was contacted Tuesday by the man, who served as a House page in 2001.
Ethics committee chairman Doc Hastings, and its ranking Democrat, Howard Berman, would provide no details on the subpoenas but told a news conference the committee was seeking both testimony and documents.
Hastert had not yet received a subpoena from the ethics committee but was willing to testify, "if the ethics committee asks him to, of course," Hastert spokesman Ron Bonjean told The Associated Press.
Several lawmakers and aides could be summoned, based on what is known so far. The committee also could subpoena former lawmakers and staff, including Foley and Fordham. However, the House has no authority to punish anyone who is no longer a member of Congress or an employee.
Hastings and Berman, in an unusual procedural move, said they will personally lead the investigation. "We pledge to you that our investigation will go wherever the evidence leads us," Hastings said.
Berman said the committee did not consider suggestions from congressional watchdog groups and editorial writers to name an outside counsel. He said the committee could do the job without partisanship.
"We have, we all have strong feelings about party, about issues, about philosophy. But for purposes of this investigation, those feelings are irrelevant. And I think that's all that the chairman and I are trying to say," Berman said.
Meanwhile, the family of a former Louisiana page, whose overly friendly but not sexually explicit e-mails from Foley in 2005 touched off the scandal, issued a statement Thursday asking the media to take its spotlight off him.
The family, in a statement issued anonymously to, and verified by, CNN, said their congressman did what they wanted when they asked him last fall to "see that Congressman Foley stop e-mailing or contacting our son and to otherwise drop the matter to avoid a media frenzy."
In the criminal probe, the Justice Department and congressional attorneys were negotiating ways to give investigators access to Foley's files without inciting a legal battle. A major dispute broke out between Congress and the department this year when the FBI raided the office of Rep. William Jefferson, D-La. in a corruption investigation. Jefferson has not been charged.
Prosecutors still lack sufficient evidence suggesting that Foley broke federal laws to ask for a warrant to search his office computers, which could hold the proof investigators are seeking, according to a senior Justice Department official.
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On the Net:
http://www.house.gov/ethics


Updated : 2021-06-25 21:09 GMT+08:00