House Ethics Committee questioning former staff members over who knew what and when
WASHINGTON House Speaker Dennis Hastert’s office may have learned of ex-Rep. Mark Foley’s inappropriate conduct toward male pages in 2002, 2003 or 2005, depending on who is telling the story.
This week, the House’s internal investigators are starting to sort it all out.
Kirk Fordham, Foley’s one-time chief of staff, was scheduled for questioning Thursday before a House ethics committee investigative panel. He said he notified Hastert’s chief of staff, Scott Palmer, in 2002 or 2003 about Foley’s inappropriate conduct, and that he subsequently learned that Palmer met with Foley.
An internal review released by Hastert’s office on Sept. 30 says the first notice to Hastert’s aides about Foley wasn’t until the fall of 2005 and it didn’t come from Fordham.
Rather, the review said, it came from the office of Rep. Rodney Alexander, R-La., after the lawmaker learned of an overly friendly but not sexually explicit e-mail from the Florida Republican to a page from the congressman’s state.
Palmer has publicly disputed Fordham’s account. It was not clear when the ethics committee will question him.
The contradiction between the staff aides is almost outdone by Hastert’s conflicts with statements by two members of his leadership team: Majority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, and the House Republican campaign chairman, Rep. Tom Reynolds, R-N.Y.
Longtime conservative leader Paul Weyrich said Tuesday that Hastert had assured him that Boehner was wrong when he said that he had told Hastert months ago about the page problem with Foley.
“As to Congressman Thomas M. Reynolds, the speaker said, “‘If he had mentioned this problem to me, I surely would have taken notice,'” Weyrich said in an e-mailed account of a phone conversation with Hastert.
Weyrich quoted Hastert as saying that Reynolds often came to him with numerous requests to help incumbents in trouble. “The speaker said he signs off on the majority of requests and only listens with one ear because the requests are repetitive,” Weyrich said.
“Did Reynolds during such a session drop the bombshell about Foley in the speaker’s lap without the speaker’s comprehending what was being told to him? “‘That is possible but unlikely,’ the speaker said. In any case, he has absolutely no recollection,” Weyrich said.
Boehner’s spokesman, Kevin Madden, said slightly different accounts were not surprising because the events took place four months ago.
A spokesman for Hastert had no comment. A Reynolds spokesman, L.D. Platt, said Hastert had already said he didn’t recall the conversation.
The FBI, trying to determine whether any crimes were committed, on Tuesday questioned a former page in Oklahoma City who received salacious messages from Foley.
Former page Jordan Edmund and his attorney, Stephen Jones, met with agents for two-and-a-half hours.
Retiring Rep. Jim Kolbe of Arizona, the only openly gay Republican House member, pushed the timeline on Foley’s e-mails back to possibly 2001, the earliest year in the timetable.
Recounting his actions, Kolbe said a former page contacted his office to report receiving e-mails from Foley that made him uncomfortable.
“I was not shown the content of the messages and was not told they were sexually explicit. It was my recommendation that this complaint be passed along to Rep. Foley’s office and the clerk who supervised the page program. This was done promptly,” he said.
Asked about Kolbe’s statement, Hastert told reporters in Aurora, Ill.: “I don’t know anything more about it. If there’s something that was of a nature that should have been reported or brought forward, then he should have done that.”
Kolbe said he passed along the complaint to then-Clerk of the House Jeff Trandahl but did not take the matter to other lawmakers.
Trandahl’s lawyer, Cono Namorato, said in a statement that Trandahl will cooperate with the FBI and the House ethics committee investigations.
Hastert says he learned of Foley’s conduct toward pages only on Sept. 29, when the Florida lawmaker abruptly resigned after being confronted by ABC News with copies of lurid instant messages he had sent to a former page.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition, October 13, 2006.