- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 24, 2006


The House ethics committee yesterday questioned Speaker J. Dennis Hastert’s top aide for more than six hours, as investigators tried to determine whether Mr. Hastert’s office knew at least three years ago of then-Rep. Mark Foley’s come-ons to former male pages.

The closed-door testimony by Hastert chief of staff Scott Palmer could help determine who is telling the truth about when the speaker’s office learned of Mr. Foley’s conduct. Mr. Hastert, Illinois Republican, has said it was in the fall of 2005.

Campaigning for a Republican candidate in Tennessee, Mr. Hastert said he plans to testify before the committee this week.

“What Mark Foley did was wrong. It was ethically wrong. It’s a shame. It’s actually disgusting,” he told reporters after a campaign rally.

In Washington, Mr. Palmer’s attorney, Scott Fredericksen, said his client hasn’t changed his version of events. The Hastert aide has disputed one account that he was notified about Mr. Foley in 2002 or 2003.

Mr. Fredericksen said his client’s testimony was “consistent with the position he’s taken all along.”

Mr. Palmer spent longer in the committee offices than any other witness, entering at 1:57 p.m. and leaving at 8:18 p.m. This is the third week of testimony, as the committee tries to learn how the Republican leadership handled Mr. Foley’s inappropriate conduct.

The speaker has a lot riding on the outcome. He has fended off calls for his resignation with statements that his staff acted properly after the 2005 notification, and quickly had a lawmaker and the House chief clerk confront Mr. Foley, Florida Republican.

Mr. Hastert said he didn’t learn about Mr. Foley until late September, when the scandal became public and Mr. Foley resigned.

The speaker’s timeline could be shattered if the committee believes former Foley chief of staff Kirk Fordham, who already has testified before the ethics panel. Mr. Fordham has said publicly that he told Mr. Palmer about Mr. Foley in 2002 or 2003 and subsequently learned that Mr. Palmer spoke with Mr. Foley on the subject.

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

Mr. Hastert’s version, issued as an internal report, said his staff learned in the fall of 2005 that Mr. Foley had sent “overly friendly” e-mails to a former Louisiana page. The report said the staff did not see the texts of the e-mails, which asked about the 16-year-old’s birthday and requested a picture.

The report said the speaker’s office contacted then-chief clerk Jeff Trandahl, who went to confront Mr. Foley with Rep. John Shimkus, Illinois Republican and chairman of the board that oversees the page program. They ordered Mr. Foley to immediately stop communicating with the youngster.

The report added that nobody in Mr. Hastert’s office knew until the messages became public that Mr. Foley also had sent sexually explicit instant messages to other former pages. Ironically, the internal report did not mention any role played by Mr. Palmer, despite his status as Mr. Hastert’s top assistant.

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