October 7, 2006 in Nation/World

House staffer casts doubt on Hastert claim

Jonathan Weisman Washington Post
 

WASHINGTON – House Speaker Dennis Hastert’s chief of staff confronted then-Rep. Mark Foley about his inappropriate social contact with male pages well before the speaker said aides in his office took any action, a current congressional staff member with personal knowledge of Foley and his behavior with pages said Friday.

The staff member said Hastert’s chief of staff, Scott Palmer, met with the Florida Republican at the Capitol to discuss complaints about Foley’s behavior toward pages. The alleged meeting occurred long before Hastert says aides in his office dispatched Rep. John Shimkus, R-Ill., and the clerk of the House in November 2005 to confront Foley about troubling e-mails he had sent to a Louisiana boy.

The staff member’s account buttresses the position of Foley’s one-time chief of staff, Kirk Fordham, who said earlier this week that he had appealed to Palmer in 2003 or earlier to intervene, after Fordham’s own efforts to stop Foley’s behavior had failed. Fordham said Foley and Palmer, one of the most powerful figures in the House of Representatives, met within days to discuss the allegations.

Palmer said this week that the meeting Fordham described “did not happen.” Timothy Heaphy, Fordham’s attorney, said Friday that Fordham is prepared to testify under oath that he had arranged the meeting and that both Foley and Palmer told him the meeting had taken place. Fordham spent more than three hours with the FBI on Thursday, and Heaphy said that on Friday he contacted the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct to offer his client’s cooperation.

“We are not preparing to cooperate. We are affirmatively seeking to,” Heaphy said.

Hastert spokesman Ron Bonjean declined to directly comment on the second House staff member’s assertion, saying that it is a matter for a House ethics committee investigation.

The emergence of a second congressional staffer describing such a meeting came on a day that Hastert, R-Ill., was working to solidify his hold on the speakership. Prominent Republicans, including President Bush, have defended Hastert, saying he should not step down, but the criticism continues to flow.

New Jersey’s Thomas Kean Jr., who offers the GOP its most promising hope to take a Senate seat from a Democrat in November, called for Hastert’s resignation Friday, as did the editorial page of the Los Angeles Times.

Hastert maintains that he knew nothing of Foley’s actions until last week, when the story first broke and Foley resigned. His stance contradicts that of House Majority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, and National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Thomas Reynolds, R-N.Y., both of whom said they had informed Hastert this past spring.

Palmer has resolutely said he had no earlier meeting with Foley, and other leadership aides have questioned the truthfulness of Fordham. Fordham quit his job as Reynolds’ chief of staff last week after acknowledging that he had tried to persuade ABC News not to publish the salacious instant-message exchanges between Foley and two former pages.

Hastert’s office contends that the first confrontation with Foley occurred in November 2005, when Shimkus, the head of the House Page Board, and then-House Clerk Jeff Trandahl took Foley aside to discuss what they termed “over-friendly” e-mails, which Foley had sent to a Louisiana boy. Fordham’s account not only pushed the matter back at least two years, but it also indicated that alarms over Foley’s behavior had gone well beyond bland e-mails.

Sources close to Fordham say Trandahl repeatedly urged the long-time aide and close family friend to confront Foley about his inappropriate advances on pages. Each time, Foley pledged to no longer socialize with the teenagers, but, weeks later, Trandahl would again alert Fordham about more contacts. Out of frustration, the sources said, Fordham contacted Palmer, hoping that an intervention from such a powerful figure in the House would persuade Foley to stop.

Now, a second House aide familiar with Foley and his actions told the Washington Post on Friday that “Scott Palmer had spoken to Foley prior to November 2005.” The aide spoke on the condition of anonymity because the matter is now the subject of a criminal investigation and a House ethics committee probe.

On Wednesday night, Palmer was described as highly emotional while aides sifted through e-mails and files to determine whether he had ever spoken to Fordham. Several people who spoke with Palmer said the chief of staff was emphatic in denying that he knew anything about Foley’s questionable contacts with young male pages.

Palmer, who shares a townhouse with Hastert when they are in town, is more powerful than all but a few House members. Members know that he speaks for Hastert.


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