Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Congressional ethics probe casts wide net

Congressional ethics probe casts wide net
By Thomas Ferraro and Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A congressional probe into Republican ex-Rep. Mark Foley's unwanted advances on young male interns is also trying to determine if any other member of the U.S. House of Representatives demonstrated such behavior toward current or former teenage assistants.

The House Ethics committee investigating the cybersex scandal is asking House members to contact all young aides who worked for them to see if they had improper communication from the Florida lawmaker who resigned after sending inappropriate messages to underage boys, or from any other lawmaker.

The letter indicating a wide-ranging investigation was signed by leaders of the ethics committee and distributed to House members' offices over the weekend. A copy of the letter was obtained by Reuters on Monday.

Revelations of Foley's lurid Internet contacts with teenage boys have raised Democrats' hopes of winning control of the House and Senate from President George W. Bush's Republicans in the November 7 elections.

A Newsweek magazine poll found that 53 percent of those asked want Democrats to win control of Congress and 52 percent believe House Speaker Dennis Hastert, an Illinois Republican, covered up the Foley matter.

In another development, The Washington Post reported that Rep. Jim Kolbe of Arizona, the only openly gay Republican in Congress, knew six years ago about Foley's improper computer messages to teenage interns formally known as congressional pages. The newspaper reported that Kolbe confronted Foley at the time.

Neither Kolbe, who is retiring from his seat, nor his aides were available for comment.

Ron Bonjean, Hastert's spokesman, said: "All accusations are being referred to the Committee on Standards (ethics committee)."

Top House Republicans have said they learned of Foley's troublesome behavior late last year or early this year. But they also say they were unaware of his overtly sexual Internet messages until they were publicly disclosed last month, prompting Foley to resign.


The ethics committee's investigation is examining who knew what and when, and what they did about it.

The letter distributed to the 432 House members now in office was signed by House Ethics panel chairman Doc Hastings, a Washington Republican, and Howard Berman of California, the panel's senior Democrat.

It asked that "you contact current and former House Pages sponsored by your office for the purpose of learning whether any of those individuals had any inappropriate communications or interactions with former Representative Foley or any other member of the House."

The committee began an investigation last week, promising to finish within weeks.

Democrats have accused Republican leaders of a cover-up and putting partisan politics above the safety of the young aides who run errands for lawmakers.

Republicans deny the charges, yet have also engaged in internal finger-pointing and second-guessing.

Foley's former chief of staff, Kirk Fordham, said he first alerted Hastert's office about Foley's troublesome behavior three years ago. Hastert's office denies it.