Washington A key player in the unfolding scandal involving teenage pages and a Florida lawmaker testified for more than four hours Thursday before a House ethics committee panel, repeating his assertions that Speaker Dennis Hastert's top aide had early warnings about the member's questionable behavior toward youths, according to the witness's attorney.
Kirk Fordham, who was a chief of staff to then-Rep. Mark Foley, R-Fla., was consistent with his previous statements when he gave hours of sworn testimony to a panel investigating the House's handling of Foley's actions, lawyer Timothy Heaphy said after the two men emerged from an afternoon of questioning.
Fordham has said that he turned to Hastert's chief of staff, Scott Palmer, in 2003 in hopes of persuading Foley to stop showing so much interest in teenage pages, who work for a semester or two on Capitol Hill. Fordham has said that Palmer later assured him that he had met privately with Foley and had informed Hastert, R-Ill., of the situation.
Palmer has been publicly mum on the Foley affair except for a seven-word statement issued days ago: "What Kirk Fordham said did not happen."
Hastert says he knew nothing of concerns about Foley's behavior toward House pages until Sept. 29. That was the day Foley, 52, abruptly resigned his House seat as ABC News was reporting sexually graphic electronic messages he had sent to former pages.
Fordham's testimony places crucial questions about the Foley affair in front of the highest level of the House Republican leadership: Did Hastert's top aides have reason to think Foley was behaving improperly? Did they relay the concerns to the speaker? And if they did not, why not?
Hastert spokesman Ron Bonjean issued a statement after Fordham's testimony, saying: "The ethics committee is investigating this matter and we are confident in its ability to determine the real facts. The Speaker has said that any person who is found guilty of improper conduct involving sexual contact or communication with a page should immediately resign, be fired, or be subjected to a vote of expulsion."
Heaphy, who was with Fordham for nearly five hours as Fordham spoke with three ethics committee members and their staffers in a Capitol basement meeting room, said his client "has been forthcoming with them. He has been consistent in his accounts of these events when he talked to the FBI and today."
The ethics committee has no jurisdiction over Foley, who is no longer a House member, but the FBI is investigating whether he had committed a crime.
Fordham, who worked for other GOP lawmakers after leaving Foley's staff, resigned last week as chief of staff to Rep. Thomas Reynolds, R-N.Y., after it was learned that he had tried to negotiate with ABC News on behalf of Foley regarding the lewd instant messages.