Democrat says page overseers discussed allegations unrelated to Foley

Tuesday, October 17th 2006, 9:52 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Allegations of improper conduct toward teenage pages that are not connected to the case of ex-Rep. Mark Foley are under discussion by House overseers of the program, according to a Democratic lawmaker involved in the talks.

Rep. Dale Kildee of Michigan, the only Democrat on the House Page Board, would not say Monday whether the allegations involved Republicans or Democrats, lawmakers or staff members. He said nothing has been proven.

In his unexpected remarks, Kildee _ who is unhappy Republicans did not tell him about Foley's improper approaches to male pages _ said the page board discussed the new allegations in a conference call Monday.

``It was about other allegations and I'd like to leave it at that,'' he said. ``Let me just say, not about Mr. Foley. It's only been allegations.''

The page board is only one panel reviewing the congressional page program, in which teenagers are nominated to serve as errand-runners for lawmakers and receive firsthand experience with the legislative process.

As part of its probe of the Foley case, the House ethics committee on Tuesday interviewed Paula Nowakowski, chief of staff to House Majority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio. The panel also was expected to interview House Sergeant at Arms Wilson Livingood later in the day.

Separately, the FBI also is investigating the Foley case.

Kildee's remarks are potentially ominous because they carry the possibility that one or more other lawmakers behaved improperly with pages.

If any Republicans are involved, new allegations could further damage the majority party in Congress less than a month before the election. Polls already show the GOP has been damaged by the scandal involving Foley, R-Fla., who sent former male pages too-friendly e-mails and sexually explicit instant messages.

While Kildee did not divulge details, it is known that federal prosecutors in Arizona have opened a preliminary investigation into an unspecified allegation related to a camping trip that Rep. Jim Kolbe, R-Ariz., took with two former pages and others in 1996. Kolbe, the only openly gay Republican in the House, has denied any wrongdoing.

Kildee spoke to reporters after testifying behind closed doors on the investigation of Foley, who resigned Sept. 29 after he was confronted with his sexually explicit instant messages.

Kildee would not say whether he told the ethics committee about the new allegations. The panel is only known to be investigating Foley's conduct and whether lawmakers and staff aides did enough to stop him.

The Page Board consists of three lawmakers, the House clerk and the sergeant at arms. The board does not run the program day-to-day, but watches over it. Teenagers from around the country, sponsored by lawmakers, attend a congressional school and perform messenger jobs. They are often seen scurrying around the House chamber and throughout the Capitol complex, carrying copies of bills and boxes of flags they pick up for constituents.

The chairman of the board is Rep. John Shimkus, R-Ill., who acknowledged freezing out Kildee and Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., when he learned of Foley's conduct in the fall of 2005. Capito also has expressed concern that she was not informed, and her Democratic opponent has accused her of failing teenagers in Congress' care.

Shimkus testified before the ethics committee last week, and told reporters he was following the wishes of the parents of a Louisiana page when he decided not to inform Capito and Kildee.

It was Foley's overly friendly e-mails to this former page that led the office of his sponsor, Rep. Rodney Alexander, to notify Speaker Dennis Hastert's staff of Foley's conduct. The parents wanted the e-mails stopped and the matter pursued no further, according to Shimkus and Alexander, R-La.

Hastert has said his staff first learned of the friendly _ but not sexually explicit _ e-mails in the fall of 2005 but he personally didn't find out until late September of this year. Former Foley chief of staff Kirk Fordham has disputed the timetable, saying he notified Hastert's chief of staff about Foley in 2002 or 2003.

Hastert has said if any of his staff members are part of a cover-up, they would be fired.

Kildee said the Page Board met to discuss Foley on Sept. 29, when the scandal became public and the Florida Republican resigned.

Since then, the board had two conference calls, Monday's call and one a week ago, Kildee said.

Kildee said if he had known of the allegations against Foley earlier, he would have called him before the board. He said minutes of the meeting would serve as a record.