Any aide guilty of cover-up will be fired, Hastert says

Staff members handled Foley case `as well as they should,' he says

October 11, 2006|By Noam Levey and Richard Simon | Noam Levey and Richard Simon,Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON -- House Speaker Dennis Hastert, whose office has been under fire for failing to deal more aggressively with former Rep. Mark Foley's interest in congressional pages, said yesterday that he would fire anyone on his staff who covered up information about Foley's conduct.

Hastert continued to stand by his aides, as investigations by the FBI and House ethics committee continued.

The Illinois Republican refused to discuss any suggestion that he should resign as speaker. New polls indicate that the GOP's prospects for maintaining control of the House in November have diminished.

"I think they've handled [the Foley matter] as well as they should," Hastert said of his aides as he delivered a speech on the economy in Aurora, Ill.

But "if anybody's found to have hidden information or covered up information, they really should be gone," he said.

Hastert noted that many of Foley's contacts with male pages appear to have occurred after the teenagers left Washington, suggesting that made it more difficult for Capitol Hill officials to know of the Florida Republican's misconduct.

Foley resigned his House seat late last month after it was revealed that some of the messages he sent pages over the years were sexually explicit.

The GOP House leadership cautioned Foley late last year about what have been characterized as "overly friendly" messages to pages, but Hastert has said that neither he nor his aides knew then about the sexually explicit communications.

Republican strategists, concerned about the scandal's political fallout, are urging GOP officials to work hard to shift attention to other issues, such as economic growth and national security.

But Hastert and other Republicans continue to be dogged by questions about why they didn't investigate Foley's interest in pages more vigorously a year ago.

Yesterday, Rep. Jim Kolbe, an Arizona Republican who is retiring this year, sought to play down suggestions that he should have done more when a page told him several years ago that he had received e-mails from Foley that made him feel uncomfortable.

"I was not shown the content of the messages and was not told they were sexually explicit," Kolbe said in a statement. "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."

A Kolbe spokeswoman said the former page contacted Kolbe between 2000 and 2002.

The scandal continues to be a hot issue in a number of campaigns nationwide.

In New York, Jack Davis, the Democratic challenger to Rep. Thomas M. Reynolds, chairman of the House GOP campaign committee, aired a new television advertisement attacking the incumbent for failing to move aggressively to stop Foley's contact with pages.

"Tom Reynolds knew that Congressman Mark Foley was a predator," says the ad. "What did he do? Tom Reynolds urged Foley to seek re-election."

Reynolds, whose committee job entails overseeing the GOP effort to retain its House majority, has said that he learned in the spring of Foley's "overly friendly" contacts with pages and informed Hastert of them. Like Hastert, Reynolds has said that he had no knowledge of the sexually explicit messages.

Reynolds also has been tied to the scandal because his chief of staff, Kirk Fordham, was once a longtime Foley aide. Fordham, who resigned from Reynolds' office last week, has said that he warned Hastert's staff at least three years ago that Foley had had inappropriate contacts with pages, a claim that Hastert's office has disputed.

Fordham is scheduled to testify tomorrow before the House ethics committee, which is investigating the way congressional leaders handled the Foley matter.

Over the weekend, Reynolds began airing an ad in his district expressing regret that he did not press for a closer look into Foley's conduct. "Nobody's angrier and more disappointed that I didn't catch his lies," Reynolds says of himself.

In Pennsylvania, Republican Rep. Don Sherwood - who has run an ad apologizing for an extramarital affair - canceled fundraising appearances by Hastert and Reynolds. Previously, GOP candidates in Kentucky and Texas canceled Hastert fundraisers.

Hastert plans to be on hand tomorrow when President Bush attends a GOP fundraiser in Chicago.

Noam Levey and Richard Simon write for the Los Angeles Times.

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