- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 11, 2006

House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert yesterday said that he would remove from his staff anyone found to have participated in any cover-up of the Foley scandal.

“If they did cover something up, then they should not continue to have their jobs,” he told reporters yesterday before a speech in Aurora, Ill.

Mr. Hastert also said that after meeting last week with staff, he thinks they handled the concerns that had been raised about former Rep. Mark Foley’s inappropriate contact with teenage boys in the congressional page program.

“In 20/20 hindsight, you probably could have done everything a little bit better,” he said.

“But if there is a problem — if there was a cover-up — then we should find that out through the investigation process. They’ll be under oath, and we’ll find out,” Mr. Hastert said, adding that he “didn’t think anybody at any time in my office did anything wrong.”

The House ethics committee is investigating the matter, including whether there was a cover-up after the initial “over-friendly” e-mails from Mr. Foley to teenage boys came to light.

The panel is expected this week to interview former Foley staffer Kirk Fordham, who resigned last week amid accusations that he tried to suppress some of the more lurid Internet messages. Upon resigning, Mr. Fordham said Republican leadership staff members knew about Mr. Foley’s inappropriate behavior at least a year earlier than they have said.

Ethics committee members indicated last week that their inquiry into the scandal could be resolved before the November elections.

The FBI is also conducting an investigation and has been contacting former congressional pages who may have been pursued by Mr. Foley. Federal investigators interviewed for more than two hours yesterday a former page in Oklahoma City who reportedly received sexually explicit Internet messages from Mr. Foley.

Mr. Hastert’s confidence that his staff will be exonerated in the investigations brought scorn from Democrats.

“America’s parents are fed up with double talk and hypocrisy. They want Republican leaders to put politics aside and put our children first,” said Stacie Paxton, press secretary for the Democratic National Committee, who accused Mr. Hastert of “fishy explanations, hair-splitting spin and blanket denials about the Republican cover-up of the Foley scandal.”

Evidence emerged yesterday that suggests that it wasn’t only Republicans who knew about Mr. Foley’s bad behavior.

Writing in Harper’s Magazine online, editor and blogger Ken Silverstein said it was a Democrat who provided him with the Foley e-mails that Democrats and some conservatives say should have tipped Republicans off that something was wrong. Like Mr. Hastert and several other news organizations, Harper’s Magazine decided the e-mails were inconclusive and did not publish the story.

Also yesterday, Rep. Jim Kolbe, Arizona Republican, explained that he, too, had been contacted by a page who said Mr. Foley had sent him e-mails that made him “uncomfortable.”

“I was not shown the content of the messages and was not told they were sexually explicit,” he said yesterday, adding that he recommended forwarding the complaint to Mr. Foley’s office and the House clerk, which he said “was done promptly.”

Outside Washington, the scandal continued roiling congressional campaigns.

In California, Democrat Jerry McNerny challenged Republican Rep. Richard W. Pombo to call for Mr. Hastert’s resignation and return campaign contributions from the speaker.

“For more than a week, Pombo has remained silent about Dennis Hastert’s failure to protect 16- and 17-year-old congressional pages from Mark Foley’s predatory behavior,” Mr. McNerny said. Continued silence from Mr. Pombo, he added, would be a sign of “complicity.”

In West Virginia, meanwhile, a Republican sought to use the issue of child predators against his Democratic opponent, Rep. Alan B. Mollohan.

Republican Chris Wakim said Mr. Mollohan voted against the Children’s Safety Act of 2005 to authorize $2 million in federal grants for technology and training for a task force going after online child predators.

“Alan Mollohan owes the voters an explanation of why he voted against authorizing money for a program designed to protect our children from Internet predators,” Mr. Wakim said.

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