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As investigation into US Congress sex scandal picks up, leader appears to be weathering storm

As investigation into US Congress sex scandal picks up, leader appears to be weathering storm

The U.S. government and the House ethics committee investigations into a Republican ex-congressman's teen online-sex scandal are intensifying, but the Republican leader of the House of Representatives seems to be weathering the political storm so far.
The Republicans are working to keep their majority in both chambers of Congress in Nov. 7 elections. An Associated Press-Ipsos poll released Thursday showed that 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 for legislative elections.
House Speaker Dennis Hastert earned fresh votes of confidence from President George W. Bush and fellow House Republican leaders Thursday after assuming direct responsibility for the damage the scandal involving disgraced former Congressman Mark Foley has inflicted on the party.
Hastert again vowed not to resign over his office's handling of it, but it has cost Republicans in opinion polls and a U.S. media firestorm shows no signs of abating.
"I'm deeply sorry this has happened and the bottom line is we're taking responsibility," Hastert said Thursday at a news conference outside his district office.
The bipartisan ethics committee met Thursday for the first time, approving nearly four dozen subpoenas for witnesses and documents regarding improper conduct between lawmakers and current and former teenage interns _ known as pages _ and who may have known about it.
While the the ethics committee _ officially the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct _ is investigating potential violations of House rules, the Justice Department appeared to be moving with dispatch in its criminal investigation.
There is plenty to investigate.
ABC News reported that three more pages, one each from 1998, 2000 and 2002, have come forward detailing sexual approaches from Foley over the Internet. And the FBI has contacted a one-time congressional page from Kentucky as part of the burgeoning investigation, said Daniel London, chief of staff to Congressman Ron Lewis, a Republican who sponsored the former page.
Ex-Foley chief of staff Kirk Fordham met with the FBI Thursday. 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.
Fordham's version directly contradicts an account issued by Hastert's office on Saturday, saying the speaker's staff only learned of an "over-friendly" email exchange between Foley and a single page. Hastert's top aide, Scott Palmer, denies Fordham warned top Republican aides about Foley and inappropriate conduct with other pages.
Hastert is holding to his assertion that he did not know about a suggestive e-mail sent by Foley to a former House page until the scandal broke last week. But he issued a less than ringing endorsement of his staff and Congressman John Shimkus, the Republican chairman of the board that oversees the page program.
Shimkus admonished Foley to cease contact with the former page, a Louisiana teen, and the matter ended there instead of being pursued in such a way that might have discovered far more lurid messages sent to other former pages.
"Could we have done it better? Could the page board have handled it better? In retrospect, probably yes," Hastert said. "But at the time what we knew and what we acted upon was what we had."
Added Hastert: "I don't know who knew what when.... If it's members of my staff that didn't do the job, we will act appropriately."
Foley, 52, stepped down last Friday after he was confronted with sexually explicit electronic messages he had sent teenage male pages and promptly checked into an alcohol rehabilitation clinic. Through his lawyer, he has said he is gay but denied any sexual contact with minors.
Hastert got a boost Thursday evening from 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. "And he expressed his support for the speaker."
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On the Net:
http://www.house.gov/ethics


Updated : 2021-05-18 09:38 GMT+08:00