Hastert arrives at ethics committee in Foley probe

Tuesday, October 24th 2006, 12:36 pm
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ House Speaker Dennis Hastert testified in private before ethics investigators Tuesday and then said they should work quickly to find out who knew about Rep. Mark Foley's come-ons to congressional pages and what was done about it.

Hastert spoke briefly after his closed-door testimony to the House ethics committee that is trying to pin down when he and his staff learned about Foley's actions.

``I answered all the questions they asked to the best of my ability,'' Hastert said after testifying for almost three hours. ``I also said that they need to move quickly to get to the bottom of this issue including who knew about the sexually explicit messages and when they knew about it.''

Hastert has denied any Republican knew of the messages from Foley to former pages. His office has described only how Republicans handled an incident last fall involving ``over friendly'' e-mails to a former page from Louisiana.

The timeline that Hastert and his staff have given conflicts with the accounts of others. Hastert, R-Ill., has said that he didn't find out about Foley until late September, when Foley's approaches to the former pages became public and the Florida Republican resigned his seat.

Hastert's appearance followed that of Rep. Tom Reynolds of New York, the House GOP campaign chairman, who said he warned the speaker about Foley last spring.

Hastert has said he didn't recall that conversation. He also has been unable to recall whether he spoke with Majority Leader John Boehner about Foley last spring, although Boehner says Hastert even told him the matter was being handled.

There is a separate conflict over whether Hastert's top aides learned about Foley a year ago, as the speaker says, or whether the speaker's chief of staff was told as much as three years ago _ as asserted by Foley's onetime chief of staff.

The speaker has vowed to fire any of his aides if they covered up knowledge of Foley's behavior.

Shortly before the speaker appeared, his security detail arrived and went inside the ethics committee room, where testimony is taken in secret sessions.

Hastert then arrived with his attorney, J. Randolph Evans of Atlanta.

After Reynolds' closed-door testimony, he urged a ``full and fair investigation of the facts'' and said that ``I strongly encourage any of my colleagues who have information that may be of relevance to bring it to the committee's attention at once.''

Previously, Reynolds has said he does not remember what month he told Hastert about the worrisome computer messages that Foley sent to former male pages _ only that it happened sometime in the spring. Reynolds also has said he did not recall the details of the conversation.

A four-member subcommittee of the House ethics committee is keeping key witnesses behind closed doors for hours as it tries to unravel the conflicts in the handling of the Foley matter.

Hastert's chief of staff, Scott Palmer, spent more than six hours before the committee Monday. Palmer has disputed one account that he was warned about Foley in 2002 or 2003.

In Washington, Palmer's lawyer, Scott Fredericksen, said his client hasn't changed his version of events. Former Foley chief of staff Kirk Fordham has said he warned the Hastert aide about Foley in 2002 or 2003.

``What Kirk Fordham said did not happen,'' Palmer said weeks ago in his lone public statement on the matter.

Fredericksen said the testimony was ``consistent with the position he's taken all along.''

Palmer spent more time in the committee offices than any other witness in three weeks of testimony, entering at 1:57 p.m. and leaving at 8:18 p.m.

Foley, R-Fla., resigned his seat Sept. 29 after he was confronted with sexually explicit instant computer messages he sent to former pages.

Hastert has a lot riding on the outcome of the ethics investigation. He has fended off calls for his resignation with statements that his staff members acted properly after they learned a year ago about Foley's friendly _ but not sexually explicit _ messages to the former Louisiana page.

Hastert said his staff notified the chief clerk, who along with Rep. John Shimkus, R-Ill., chairman of the board overseeing the page program, confronted Foley and told him to stop contacting the youngster.