- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 5, 2006

A third Republican in the House leadership team publicly distanced himself from the burgeoning scandal over former Rep. Mark Foley yesterday as a top aide resigned amid charges that he tried to suppress the reporting of sexually explicit Internet messages that Mr. Foley had sent a teenage boy.

“I think I could have given some good advice here, which is you have to be curious, you have to ask all the questions you can think of,” Majority Whip Roy Blunt of Missouri said yesterday about his party’s muted handling of “over-friendly” e-mails that Mr. Foley wrote to former congressional pages.

The parents of the 16-year-old boy who received the e-mails alerted congressional Republicans to the messages but said they didn’t want to pursue the matter beyond ordering Mr. Foley to quit contacting their son.

“You absolutely can’t decide not to look into activities because one individual’s parents don’t want you to,” Mr. Blunt said of the decision by top Republicans not to investigate further.

Meanwhile yesterday, the top aide to Rep. Thomas M. Reynolds, the New York Republican who heads the committee responsible for electing Republicans to the House, resigned. Kirk Fordham, a former Foley staffer, said he had volunteered to help Mr. Foley when the scandal broke last week.

In doing so, said ABC News producer Maddy Sauer, Mr. Fordham offered the network a deal that would have kept the messages concealed.

“He said we could have the exclusive on the resignation if we did not run direct quotes from the instant messages,” she said.

The network refused Mr. Fordham’s offer, according to its Web site.

But Mr. Fordham denied wrongdoing, saying yesterday that “at no point did I ever ask anyone to block any inquiries into Foley’s actions or behavior.”

Mr. Fordham also said that more than two years ago, he had “more than one conversation with senior staff at the highest level of the House of Representatives asking them to intervene” on concerns over his interactions with male pages.

Those conversations, he said, took place more than a year before the earliest date that the House Republican leadership has acknowledged knowing of any suspicious behavior on Mr. Foley’s part.

Scott Palmer, chief of staff to House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, said yesterday: “What Kirk Fordham said did not happen.”

A second leadership aide said Mr. Fordham is “upset” over leaving his job and “out of his mind.”

Hastert spokesman Ron Bonjean said, “This matter has been referred to the standards committee, and we fully expect that the bipartisan panel will do what it needs to do to investigate this matter and protect the integrity of the House.”

Mr. Fordham told ABC News that he plans to contact the FBI today “to tell what he knows.”

The Justice Department yesterday contacted House officials and ordered them to preserve all the evidence associated with the scandal. Agents also have begun contacting former pages.

Majority Leader John A. Boehner and Rep. Deborah Pryce, head of the Republican conference, both of Ohio, have written the chamber’s clerk and requested an investigation into reports that Mr. Foley was turned away from the congressional page dorm on Capitol Hill one night while intoxicated.

The latest developments come as the House ethics committee meets today in a rare publicized meeting to discuss the Foley matter. The committee will still meet behind closed doors as usual. But the fact that it was publicized at all signals the importance that Republicans place on appearing now to act aggressively to investigate and clean up the congressional page program.

Also yesterday, Mr. Hastert got a much-needed boost of support from two influential conservatives in his party.

Rep. Mike Pence, the Indiana Republican who is chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee, and Rep. Joe Pitts, the Pennsylvania Republican who leads the religious conservative Values Action Team, said yesterday that Mr. Hastert should not resign, as some conservatives and Democrats have urged.

“Speaker Hastert is a man of integrity who has led our conference honorably and effectively throughout the past eight years,” they said in a joint statement. “Speaker Dennis Hastert should not resign.”

Still, Mr. Pence and Mr. Pitts noted that Congress “failed” to protect the pages and that they have “reservations about how this matter was handled administratively.”

Those concerns have been echoed by many top Republicans. In addition to Mr. Blunt, Mr. Reynolds and Mr. Boehner have spoken critically or distanced themselves from Mr. Hastert over the handling of the matter.

At a press conference Monday, Mr. Reynolds told reporters, “I did what most people would do in a workplace. I heard something. I took it to my supervisor.”

Mr. Boehner, Ohio Republican, has defended Mr. Hastert and said he shouldn’t resign. But he also distanced himself during a Cincinnati radio interview this week.

“I believe I talked to the speaker, and he told me it had been taken care of,” he said. “And my position is it’s in his corner, it’s his responsibility. The clerk of the House who runs the page program, the Page Board all report to the speaker, and I believe it had been dealt with.”

In resigning from Mr. Reynolds’ office yesterday, Mr. Fordham lobbed some of the most pointed accusations at House leadership for their handling of the matter.

“The fact is, even prior to the existence of the Foley e-mail exchanges, I had more than one conversation with senior staff at the highest levels of the House of Representatives asking them to intervene when I was informed of Mr. Foley’s inappropriate behavior,” he said. “One of these staffers is still employed by a senior House Republican leader. Rather than trying to shift the blame, those who are employed by these House leaders should acknowledge what they know about their action or inaction in response to the information they knew about Mr. Foley prior to 2005.”

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