Friday, October 20, 2006

Top Republican testifies in sex scandal

Top Republican testifies in sex scandal
By Thomas Ferraro

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A top U.S. Republican testified on Thursday in the investigation of a Capitol Hill sex scandal, and afterward said the sordid affair was not hurting his party's chances of retaining control of the U.S. Congress in the November 7 elections.

"It does not appear to be affecting any of our races," House of Representatives Republican leader John Boehner said after emerging from a closed-door meeting with a congressional ethics panel. Boehner of Ohio said voters were more interested in such matters as taxes and national security.

Yet polls show Democrats making big gains nationally since the scandal broke on September 29 with the resignation of Rep. Mark Foley after it was disclosed that the Florida Republican sent sexually explicit e-mails to teenage male interns, known as pages.

A Time magazine poll earlier this month found that most Americans believe Republicans tried to coverup the matter. Yet others found people saying it will not impact their vote.

Boehner said he told the ethics panel privately what he had earlier said in public -- that he first learned about contact between Foley and a former page several months ago, and believes he informed House Speaker Dennis Hastert, an Illinois Republican.

Hastert, Boehner and other Republicans, however, insist they did not know about sexually explicit e-mails by Foley until they were disclosed on September 29 by ABC News.

On Thursday, ABC News quoted a Republican familiar with the investigation as saying former House Clerk Jeff Trandahl was believed to have testified earlier in the day that a top Hastert aide was informed of "all issues dealing with the page program."

ABC quoted the source as saying Trandahl planned to name Hastert aide Ted Van Der Meid as the person regularly briefed about the program, including "a problem group of members and staff who spent too much time socializing with pages outside official duties." One of whom was Foley, ABC said.

Trandahl became House clerk in 1998 and left the post for another job late last year. As clerk, he helped oversee the page program.

"Jeff Trandahl has cooperated fully with the investigation," his attorney, Cono Namorato, said after his client's private testimony. "He answered every question asked of him and stands ready to render additional assistance if needed."

But, the lawyer added, "On my advice, Jeff will continue his position of not publicly airing his recollections," pending completion of the probe.

A former top aide to Foley said earlier this month he told senior Hastert aides three years ago about Foley's troublesome behavior. Hastert's office denies it.

Hastert's office has said Trandahl was advised late last year of an "overly-friendly" e-mail from Foley to a former intern and Foley was told to end communications with him.