Thursday, October 05, 2006

Aide says he reported Foley to Hastert 3 years ago

Yahoo! News
Aide says he reported Foley 3 years ago
By DEVLIN BARRETT, Associated Press Writer

A senior congressional aide said Wednesday he told House Speaker Dennis Hastert's office about worrisome conduct by Rep. Mark Foley (news, bio, voting record) toward teenage pages more than three years ago, long before officials have acknowledged becoming aware of the issue.

Kirk Fordham made his comments to The Associated Press in an interview as a Kentucky Republican canceled a campaign fundraising event with Hastert. Rep. Ron Lewis (news, bio, voting record) said he wants to know the facts behind a scandal that has roiled Republicans since last week.

"I'm taking the speaker's words at face value," Lewis said in an interview. "I have no reason to doubt him. But until this is cleared up, I want to know the facts.

"If anyone in our leadership has done anything wrong, then I will be the first in line to condemn it."

Taken together, the comments by Fordham and the actions by Lewis added to the political uncertainty surrounding Hastert and fellow Republicans five weeks before midterm elections in which their control of the House will be tested.

Hastert's office did not immediately respond to either development.

Foley, 52, a Florida Republican, resigned last Friday after he was confronted with sexually explicit electronic messages he had sent teenage male pages. He has since entered an alcohol rehabilitation facility at an undisclosed location and, through his lawyer, has denied having had any sexual contact with minors.

His abrupt departure left behind a virtual sex scandal and a string of unanswered questions — about what senior lawmakers knew, when they learned and what they did about it.

Fordham said he was serving as Foley's chief of staff when he was told about the lawmaker's inappropriate behavior toward pages more than three years ago. He said he had "more than one conversation with senior staff at the highest level of the House of Representatives asking them to intervene" at the time.

Fordham declined to identify the officials in Hastert's office he spoke with.

Two members of the GOP leadership say they told Hastert this past spring they had heard Foley had sent overly friendly e-mails to a page. Hastert said over the weekend he does not recall those conversations, but has not disputed they took place.

Fordham resigned Wednesday as chief of staff to Rep. Thomas Reynolds (news, bio, voting record), R-N.Y., and said: "I never attempted to prevent any inquiries or investigation."

He said he would fully disclose to the FBI and the House ethics committee "any and all meetings and phone calls" regarding Foley's behavior that he had with senior staffers in the House leadership.

Fordham said one staffer he spoke with remains employed by a senior House Republican leader, but he declined to identify the person.

"Rather than trying to shift the blame on me, those who are employed by these House leaders should acknowledge what they know about their action or inaction in response to the information they knew about Mr. Foley prior to 2005," Fordham said.

At the time of his resignation, Fordham was serving as chief of staff for Reynolds, a member of the GOP leadership who has struggled to avoid political damage in the scandal's fallout.

Lewis, the Kentucky congressman, had arranged for Hastert to appear at a $50-per-person fundraiser next Tuesday. Hastert is one of the GOP's most sought-after speaker for campaign events, and the decision to scrap the appearance reflected concern over sharing a stage with a man suddenly struggling with a scandal.

State and federal investigators swung into action.

The Justice Department ordered House officials to "preserve all records" related to Foley's electronic correspondence with teenagers. Acting U.S. Attorney Jeff Taylor for the District of Columbia sought protection of the records in a three-page letter to House counsel Geraldine Gennet, according to a Justice official speaking on condition of anonymity.

Such letters often are followed by search warrants and subpoenas and signal that investigators are moving closer to a criminal investigation.

The request was aimed at averting a conflict with the House similar to a standoff in May when FBI agents raided Louisiana Rep. William Jefferson (news, bio, voting record)'s office seeking information in a bribery investigation.

FBI agents have begun interviewing participants in the House page program, according to a law enforcement official who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the ongoing investigation. The official declined to say whether the interviews were limited to current pages or included former pages.

Separately, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement confirmed that it has begun its own preliminary inquiry.


Associated Press writers Andrew Taylor, Lara Jakes Jordan and Laurie Kellman in Washington; Marus Kabel in Springfield, Mo., and Michelle Smith in Providence, R.I., contributed to this report