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Archive for Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Hastert chief of staff testifies in page probe

October 24, 2006

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— The House ethics committee questioned Speaker Dennis Hastert's top aide for more than six hours Monday, as investigators tried to determine whether Hastert's office knew at least three years ago of Rep. Mark Foley's come-ons to male pages.

The closed-door testimony by Hastert chief of staff Scott Palmer could help determine who is telling the truth about when the speaker's office first learned of Foley's conduct. Hastert has said it was in the fall of 2005.

Campaigning for a Republican candidate in Tennessee, Hastert said he planned to testify before the committee this week.

Hastert said he didn't learn about Foley until late September, when the scandal became public and Foley resigned.

The speaker's timeline could be shattered if the committee believes former Foley chief of staff Kirk Fordham, who already has testified before the ethics panel. Fordham has said publicly that he told Palmer about Foley in 2002 or 2003, and subsequently learned that Palmer spoke with Foley on the subject.

"What Kirk Fordham said did not happen," Palmer said weeks ago in his lone public statement on the matter.

Hastert's version, issued as an internal report, said his staff learned in the fall of 2005 that Foley had sent overly friendly e-mails to a former Louisiana page. The report said the staff did not see the texts of the e-mails, which asked about the 16-year-old's birthday and requested a picture.

The report said the speaker's office contacted then-chief clerk Jeff Trandahl, who went to confront Foley with Rep. John Shimkus, R-Ill. and chairman of the board that oversees the page program. They ordered Foley to immediately stop communicating with the youngster.

The report added that nobody in Hastert's office knew, until the messages became public, that Foley also had sent sexually explicit instant messages to other former pages.

Ironically, the internal report did not mention any role played by Palmer, despite his status as Hastert's top assistant.

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