Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Hastert says those who hid scandal must go

Hastert says those who hid scandal must go

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Republican head of the U.S. House of Representatives said on Tuesday anyone who covered up a growing Internet sex scandal on Capitol Hill should step down.

House Speaker Dennis Hastert made the comment as Rep. Jim Kolbe of Arizona, Congress' only openly gay Republican, confirmed he was told six years ago of inappropriate Internet messages from former Republican Rep. Mark Foley to a young male former House aide.

Kolbe said he passed the information on to the House office that supervises the page program, in which high school students spend time in Washington as junior congressional assistants.

"This was done promptly," Kolbe said in a statement. "I did not have a personal conversation with Mr. Foley about the matter. I assume e-mail contacts ceased since the former page never raised the issue again with my office."

Republican House leaders have said they only recently became aware of the illicit side of the case when Foley resigned from his Florida district seat last late month.

The scandal involving Foley's lewd computer messages is undermining Republican efforts to retain control of Congress in the November 7 elections.

Hastert's handling of the case has come under fire and there have been calls for his resignation. His own staff has been closely scrutinized amid the finger-pointing within the party's ranks about who knew what, when they learned about it, and what -- if anything -- they did.

"If anybody's found to have hidden information or covered up information, they really should be gone," Hastert told reporters in his Illinois district.

A former chief of staff for Foley said last week that he first advised Hastert's office of the Florida congressman's troublesome behavior three years ago. Hastert's chief of staff has denied it.

The House Ethics Committee last week began what it promised would be a wide-ranging investigation. The FBI and authorities in Foley's home state are also looking into it.

As the issue heated up Florida politics, the state's Democratic Party asked the state attorney general for copies of all of his office's records, e-mails and phone logs pertaining to Foley and Internet communications, dating back to 2003.

The public records request sought copies of such communications with the White House, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, the National Republican Campaign Committee and various Republicans in Congress.

The Democrats asked state Attorney General Charlie Crist, a Republican gubernatorial candidate with a 10-point lead over his Democratic challenger, to produce all the records within one week or provide a written explanation why he did not.