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Foley Probe to Focus on Who Knew, When

Karl Rove reveals White House's concern about election fallout from the page sex scandal.

October 10, 2006|Richard Simon and Noam N. Levey | Times Staff Writers

WASHINGTON — Witnesses will begin testimony behind closed doors this week in the sex scandal that has sent shudders through the Republican-controlled Congress and potentially though the upcoming elections.

The investigation, which is being conducted by the House Ethics Committee in an otherwise quiet Capitol, will look into who knew what, and when, about the contacts between then-Rep. Mark Foley (R-Fla.) and male pages.

In what is shaping up as a classic "he said/he said," Kirk Fordham, a former Foley aide, is expected to testify that he warned House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert's office in 2003 or earlier about Foley's inappropriate interest in teenage pages.

Officials in Hastert's office have said they did not learn about Foley's interest until last fall, when a Louisiana congressman alerted the office to a series of e-mails Foley sent to a former page. Hastert has maintained that his aides then alerted officials in charge of the page program, who told Foley to cease contact with the teenage boy.

"All eyes will be on Hastert, and the basic point of the interviews with staff and GOP leaders will be to find out when the speaker had serious indications something was wrong with Foley," said Julian Zelizer, a specialist in congressional history at Boston University.

Hastert's attorney, J. Randolph Evans, said, "We're going to be fully cooperative."

Also Monday, it became clear that the Foley scandal was sparking political concerns at the highest levels of the White House, with strategist Karl Rove conceding in a private briefing that the matter "complicates things" for some Republican candidates who have been linked to the scandal.

Fordham's attorney, Tim Heaphy, said Monday said that he expects the committee investigation to focus "less on what Congressman Foley did and more on who knew what when."

This week's questioning of witnesses and scrutinizing of records comes as the committee broadens its inquiry to determine whether any other House members have had inappropriate contact with the 16- and 17-year-old congressional pages.

Ethics Committee Chairman Rep. Doc Hastings (R-Wash.) and the panel's top Democrat, Rep. Howard L. Berman of Valley Village, asked all House members to contact current and former pages sponsored by their offices to determine "whether any of those individuals had any inappropriate communications or interactions with former Rep. Foley or any other member of the House."

The politically sensitive investigation also comes as the scandal has become an issue in the battle for control of Congress. The committee has vowed to act swiftly, but it is unclear whether it will be done before the November elections.

The panel conducting the investigation, made up of two Democrats and two Republicans, is trying to determine whether any House members or staff violated House rules. The committee has no power to discipline Foley, who resigned from Congress Sept. 29. A separate criminal investigation is being conducted by the FBI.

The committee is expected to interview Hastert and members of his staff, including Scott Palmer, whom Fordham has said he spoke to in 2002 or 2003 about Foley. Hastert's chief political advisor, Mike Stokke, and his senior counsel, Ted Van Der Meid -- both of whom helped field the complaint last year, according to an account prepared by the speaker's office -- may be called as well.

So may a host of other lawmakers and staff, and perhaps Foley and former pages. Other possible witnesses include:

* Former House Clerk Jeff Trandahl, who oversaw the page program and allegedly was asked to talk to Foley after the speaker's office received a complaint last year;

* Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.), chairman of the board that oversees the page program, who allegedly accompanied Trandahl to talk to Foley;

* Rep. Rodney Alexander (R-La.), who sponsored the page who received e-mails from Foley last year;

* Rep. Jim Kolbe (R-Ariz.), whom the Washington Post reported confronted Foley as early as 2000 about messages to pages;

* Rep. Thomas M. Reynolds (R-N.Y.), chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, who hired Fordham as his chief of staff last year.

The panel has prepared about four dozen subpoenas, but officials refuse to say whom they have summoned. Witnesses called by the committee testify under oath; they can be accompanied by an attorney and can plead the 5th Amendment protection against self-incrimination.

In his private briefing Monday, Rove noted that with the Democrats needing just 15 seats to take control of the House, "every seat matters." It does not help, he suggested, "having Foley's seat up for grabs rather than being safe and having Reynolds responsible now for fighting back on this issue."

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