- The Washington Times - Friday, October 6, 2006

The House ethics committee yesterday opened an investigation into the congressional page scandal, vowing to follow the evidence and spare no one based on politics as it approved “nearly four dozen” subpoenas for members, Capitol officials and staffers.

“The American people, and especially the parents of all current and former pages, are entitled to know how this situation was handled, and we are determined to answer their questions,” Rep. Doc Hastings, Washington Republican and chairman of the committee, said yesterday. “We pledge to you that our investigation will go wherever the evidence leads us.”

The committee of five Republicans and five Democrats voted unanimously during an emergency meeting yesterday morning to approve dozens of subpoenas for documents and testimony related to former Rep. Mark Foley, Florida Republican, the page program and the steps taken by Republican leaders after the parents of a former page complained about e-mails Mr. Foley had written their teenage son, Mr. Hastings said.

Moments after the investigation was announced, House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Illinois Republican, flatly dismissed calls from some conservatives that he resign the top House position for not investigating the situation more swiftly and thoroughly when he first learned of Mr. Foley’s contact with the former page.

“I’m going to run, presumably win this election,” he told reporters gathered in his hometown of Batavia, Ill. “And when we do, I expect to run for leader — for speaker.”

Mr. Hastert began his remarks on a note of contrition. “I’m deeply sorry that this has happened, and the bottom line is that we’re taking responsibility,” he said. “Ultimately, as someone has said in Washington before: The buck stops here.”

But by the end of his remarks, he again denied any wrongdoing.

Mr. Hastert also announced the creation of a confidential toll-free hot line — 866/384-0481 — for information about abuses related to the congressional page program.

President Bush spoke last night with Mr. Hastert, thanking him for making a clear public statement and taking responsibility for the situation. The president said he appreciated that when House leaders learned of the lurid instant messages, they took swift action to persuade Mr. Foley to resign, and called for an investigation. He also reiterated his support for the speaker.

Meanwhile, the FBI continued its preliminary investigation into the matter. Yesterday, investigators interviewed Kirk Fordham, a former Foley staffer who resigned this week amid charges he tried to keep from the public some of the most salacious Internet messages Mr. Foley sent teenage boys. Upon resigning Wednesday, Mr. Fordham told reporters that House Republican leadership officials knew more about Mr. Foley’s behavior much earlier than they are acknowledging.

Mr. Fordham and his attorney appeared briefly before news cameras yesterday to say that he had testified but declined to comment further.

In Monroe, La., CNN obtained a statement from the family of the page who got the e-mails from Mr. Foley.

The parents appear to support for the most part the Republican leadership’s version of when they learned of the Foley matter and how they responded, according to the statement.

After learning of the suggestive e-mails last fall, Rep. Rodney Alexander, Louisiana Republican, contacted the family, they said.

“He explained that his office had been made aware of these e-mails by our son and that while he thought the e-mails were overly friendly, he did not think, nor did we think, that they were offensive enough to warrant an investigation,” they said, according to the statement.

The parents asked that Mr. Foley be ordered to stop contacting their son but, wanting to avoid a “media frenzy,” they also asked that the matter be dropped.

The matter will be closely reviewed by the ethics committee, both Democrats and Republicans on the panel promised.

“I wanted no part of an incumbent protection agency,” Rep. Howard L. Berman, California Democrat, said of joining the committee earlier this year. “We all have strong partisan feelings, we have passionate concerns about issues, we have ideological and philosophical differences, but on this committee and for purposes of this investigation, we are going to put those partisan considerations totally aside, as we have seen and witnessed from the chairman during the past five and a half months.”

During the ethics committee press conference, Mr. Hastings said, “I think the speaker has done an excellent job.”

Asked whether that assessment might not taint his objectivity during the upcoming probe of how Mr. Hastert handled the Foley matter, Mr. Hastings paused for a moment.

“Listen, I don’t want to get into all of that,” he said. “We are here to talk about what the ethics committee is going to do regarding the incidents that happened in the last week, and that’s what we want to focus on.”

Questions also were asked about whether Rep. Judy Biggert, an Illinois Republican on the committee whose district borders Mr. Hastert’s, could remain objective.

“It makes no difference,” she said. “The evidence will lead us, as the chairman said, to find the facts as they stand and take action that is needed.”

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said she is “pleased” that the committee is investigating the “cover-up” of Mr. Foley’s electronic dalliances.

“I expect that the Republican members, officers of the House and staff will be questioned under oath so that this scandal will be resolved fairly and quickly,” she said.

Earlier yesterday, Republican aides said Mr. Hastert intended to ask former FBI Director Louis J. Freeh to evaluate the page program and make recommendations for how to improve it. But, the aides said, Mrs. Pelosi nixed the proposal.

“The speaker reached out to Democrat Leader Pelosi and shared with her that Louis Freeh would be a great choice to strengthen the security of the House page program,” said one House Republican leadership aide. “Pelosi rejected the idea because she wanted to focus attention on the investigation.”

Mr. Hastert’s future all week has been in question with calls for his resignation coming from the right. But by yesterday, those doubts appeared to clear.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican, and House Deputy Whip Eric Cantor, Virginia Republican, both issued statements supporting Mr. Hastert.

“Calls for Speaker Hastert to resign are ridiculous,” Mr. Cantor said. “Speaker Hastert is an honest man who would never put a child in harm’s way. Of that, I am confident, as I am of his leadership.”

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