WASHINGTON – A longtime chief of staff to disgraced former representative Mark Foley, R-Fla., approached House Speaker Dennis Hastert’s office three years ago, repeatedly imploring senior Republicans to help stop Foley’s advances toward teenage male pages, the staff member said Wednesday.
The account by Kirk Fordham, who resigned Wednesday from his job with another senior lawmaker, pushed back to 2003 or earlier the time when Hastert’s staff reportedly became aware of Foley’s questionable behavior concerning teenagers who work on Capitol Hill. It raised new questions about Hastert’s assertions that senior GOP leaders were aware only of “over-friendly” e-mails from 2005 that they say did not raise alarm bells when they came to light this year.
“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,” said Fordham, who was Foley’s chief of staff for 10 years. He left that post in January 2004 to join the campaign staff of Republican Mel Martinez, now a senator from Florida, and later worked for Rep. Thomas Reynolds, R-N.Y., whose staff Fordham left yesterday. He would not name the Hastert staff members he spoke with.
Hastert’s chief of staff, Scott Palmer, said in a statement, “What Kirk Fordham said did not happen.” The speaker’s office also said that the entire matter has been referred to the House ethics 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.”
Fordham is the fourth person to indicate that Hastert or his staff was warned about Foley’s questionable behavior months or years before the six-term lawmaker abruptly resigned Friday, after ABC News published lewd instant messages that the lawmaker had sent to former pages. Previously, several offices and some media outlets had obtained copies of tamer 2005 e-mails in which Foley asked a former page from Louisiana for his photo and asked what he wanted for his birthday. Rep. Rodney Alexander, R-La., said his staff told Hastert’s aides last fall about those e-mails, which had alarmed the teenager and his parents.
Two high-ranking House Republicans – Majority Leader John Boehner of Ohio and Reynolds, the House GOP campaign chairman – said they spoke to Hastert about the Louisiana e-mails earlier this year. Hastert says he does not recall such conversations, and he says his staff never told him about the matters raised by Alexander’s aides.
Meanwhile Wednesday, U.S. prosecutors ordered the House to preserve all documents related to Foley’s electronic communications with current or former pages.
As Hastert turned to close House allies and friendly conservative radio hosts to defend him, most GOP lawmakers were staying quiet about his political fate as they campaigned for their own re-elections Nov. 7. However, Rep. Ron Lewis, R-Ky., who faces a tight re-election race, on Wednesday rescinded an invitation to Hastert to join him at a fundraiser next week.
“I’m taking the speaker’s words at face value,” Lewis told the Associated Press. “But until this is cleared up, I want to know the facts. If anyone in our leadership has done anything wrong, then I will be the first in line to condemn it.”
Also Wednesday, House Majority Whip Roy Blunt, R-Mo., said that if he had been told about Foley’s exchanges with the Louisiana youth, he would have advised his congressional colleagues to ask more questions. Blunt was not told of the concerns raised by Alexander and his staff, nor were most House members, including two members of the board overseeing the page program.
Rep. Deborah Pryce, R-Ohio – chairwoman of the Republican Conference, the fourth-highest party leadership post – on Wednesday asked House Clerk Karen Haas to investigate allegations raised in a GOP conference telephone call Tuesday night. In her letter, Pryce wrote, “A member stated that there are rumors that there was an incident within the last several years when then-Congressman Foley in an intoxicated state was stopped by the Capitol Police from entering the Page Residence Hall.” Pryce wrote that another lawmaker said that at an unspecified time, “the Director of the Republican Pages brought specific concerns about … Foley’s behavior to the attention of the then-Clerk of the House. While the details of these rumors are vague, they are very serious allegations.”
Fordham has played a central role in the Foley affair. He became Reynolds’ chief of staff about a year ago but maintained close friendships with Foley and his sister. On Friday, when ABC News reporter Brian Ross confronted Foley with evidence of lurid instant message exchanges, Fordham intervened. He offered Ross an exclusive story on Foley’s resignation if he agreed to withhold publication of the messages. Ross declined.
Fordham resigned from Reynolds’ staff on Wednesday, saying he took action on Foley’s behalf as a friend, not at the behest of Reynolds, who faces a tough re-election race of his own.
“I will not allow the Democrats to make me a political issue in my boss’s race, and I will fully cooperate with the ongoing investigation,” Fordham said. “Rather than trying to shift the blame on me, 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.”
Fordham grew incensed when leadership aides intimated that he had prevailed upon House leaders in 2005 to withhold the Foley matter from the board overseeing the page program and instead refer it only to the page board’s chairman, Rep. John Shimkus, R-Ill. Fordham said of the allegations: “This is categorically false.”
Meanwhile Wednesday, key players tried to explain inconsistencies in their accounts of the Foley mater, with varying levels of success. House members agree that the two officials chosen to confront Foley in the fall of 2005 about the e-mails to the Louisiana youth were Shimkus and Jeff Trandahl, then clerk of the House and a member of the page board. But accounts differ on whether Alexander’s staff showed the two men the contents of the e-mails.
A chronology issued Saturday by Hastert’s office stated that Trandahl “asked to see the text of the e-mail. Congressman Alexander’s office declined, citing the fact that the family wished to maintain as much privacy as possible and simply wanted the contact to stop.” The chronology says Trandahl then “immediately” summoned Shimkus, and the two men sat down with Foley, who persuaded them that his exchanges with the Louisiana boy were innocent. The account strongly implies that neither Shimkus nor Trandahl knew the exact language in the e-mails when the two men met with Foley.
But Shimkus has said that he and Trandahl were provided the text of the e-mails. Shimkus spokesman Steve Tomaszewski said in an interview Wednesday that Trandahl provided the congressman with the language of the e-mails – including Foley’s request for the boy’s photo – on a standard-size sheet of paper. Trandahl, now director of the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, has not responded to repeated requests for interviews.
Also, Hastert has given conflicting accounts of whether he asked Foley to resign Friday. On Monday, he told reporters in the Capitol, “I think Foley resigned almost immediately upon the outbreak of this information, and so we really didn’t have a chance to ask him to resign.” On Tuesday, Hastert told radio host Rush Limbaugh, “We found out about it, asked him to resign.”
Hastert spokesman Ron Bonjean said Hastert “misspoke” on the Limbaugh show because he thought someone in the House hierarchy had urged Foley to step down.