Hastert chief of staff testifies before ethics panel

Monday, October 23rd 2006, 11:54 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The House ethics committee Monday questioned the top aide to House Speaker Dennis Hastert in an appearance that could clarify whether early warnings about ex-Rep. Mark Foley were ignored.

Scott Palmer, Hastert's chief of staff, has disputed statements that he was told by Foley's top aide in 2002 or 2003 about the Florida Republican's inappropriate computer-message come-ons to male pages.

Hastert, R-Ill., has released an internal report that said his aides first learned about Foley's inappropriate conduct in the fall of 2005. But that report did not mention any role that Palmer played at the time.

Palmer has not spoken publicly, except to say that the story of the 2002-2003 notification to him by ex-Foley chief of staff Kirk Fordham did not happen.

Before Palmer testified, the top political aide to Rep. Tom Reynolds, R-N.Y., appeared before the committee as it began a third week of closed-door testimony.

Sally Vastola is executive director of the National Republican Congressional Committee and a longtime top aide to Reynolds. The lawmaker, who is the House GOP's campaign chairman, is expected to testify Tuesday.

Reynolds learned of Foley's inappropriate e-mails to a Louisiana teenager last spring from the boy's congressional sponsor and Reynolds says that he told Hastert about it at the time.

Vastola's testimony seemed sure to touch on how Reynolds reacted when learning of problems with Foley's behavior toward pages and what other individuals Reynolds may have shared the information with.

Reynolds is slated to appear Tuesday before the panel, which is looking into whether lawmakers and staff aides should have done more to prevent Foley from having inappropriate interactions with pages. The known problems date back as far as 2001 or 2002, when Foley sent inappropriate e-mails to a page sponsored by Rep. Jim Kolbe, R-Ariz.

Neither that incident nor the 2005 e-mails to the Louisiana boy were forwarded to the ethics committee or the full membership of the bipartisan page board.

Reynolds learned of the Foley matter last spring from Rep. Rodney Alexander, R-La., in the wake of media inquiries. Reynolds also discussed it with Majority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio. Boehner told a Cincinnati talk show that he discussed the problem with Hastert and had been assured that it ``had been taken care of.''

The panel also is expected to hear testimony this week from top aides to Hastert, including chief of staff Ted Van Der Meid, who had frequent interactions with former clerk of the House Jeff Trandahl about House operations, including problems in the page program. Hastert's top political aide, Mike Stokke, is also likely to testify this week, and the speaker himself could also testify.

Testimony from Hastert's aides _ so far virtually silent about long-known problems about Foley and pages _ would go a long way toward wrapping up the interviews required for the panel to make its findings, though it's unclear whether the panel will have enough time to issue a report before Election Day.

Kirk Fordham, Foley's former chief of staff, has testified that he also told top aides to Hastert about the Florida congressman's inappropriate behavior with pages years ago.