Oct 10, 2006 -- House speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., tries to change the subject. But the accusations about Hastert subordinates who were apparently told about Congressman Mark Foley's questionable behavior keep coming.
Hastert spoke to reporters Tuesday, insisting that he and the GOP House leadership had done nothing wrong in the House page scandal involving ex-Rep. Mark Foley, R-Fla. The speaker heralded the economy: "We've lowered people's taxes. They have more money in their pockets to spend," he said.
Meanwhile, ABC News has learned that one former staffer who worked for the GOP leadership will tell the House Ethics Committee Thursday about an incident several years ago in which he was alerted that an apparently inebriated Foley had tried to gain access to the pages' dormitory.
A source with firsthand knowledge of events says that this coming Thursday, Kirk Fordham -- former chief of staff to both Foley and more recently Rep. Tom Reynolds, R-N.Y. -- will testify that a few years ago he was told by then-House clerk Jeff Trandahl that Foley had been stopped while trying to enter the pages' dorm in an apparently intoxicated state. The source said Fordham will testify that he recalls this being the event that convinced both him and Trandahl to warn Hastert's office, with Fordham designated to have the conversation with Hastert's chief of staff, Scott Palmer. The source said that both aides had been watching Foley's behavior with pages and that Fordham had counseled Foley to watch his behavior.
The source tells ABC News that Fordham will testify that he alerted Palmer that Foley had a pattern of displaying inappropriate behavior toward pages. Asked about Fordham's claim that he met with Palmer in approximately 2003 to warn him about Foley's behavior, Palmer said in a statement, "What Kirk Fordham said did not happen."
Last month, before the Foley scandal broke, Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite, R-Fla., also learned about the dormitory incident, which she said she was told about from firsthand sources. After learning about an inappropriate but not sexually charged e-mail Foley sent, which had been posted on ABCNEWS.com's "The Blotter" on Thursday Sept. 28, Brown-Waite decided to launch her own investigation. She said she alerted GOP leadership on Friday Sept. 29 about both the dorm incident and about pages who had been made to feel uncomfortable by Foley. That evening the Foley scandal erupted with news of the lurid Instant Messages Foley had sent former pages.
But in Aurora, Ill., today Hastert told ABC News that he didn't know of any Foley incident other than those conducted via computer. "I understood what my staff has told me, and they've handled it as well as they should have," he said. "In 20/20 hindsight, you could probably do everything a little better."
"If there was a problem, if there was a cover-up then we should find that out through the investigation process," Hastert said. "They'll be under oath, and we'll find out if they did cover up something; then they should not continue to have their jobs."
Across the country, the scandal continued to reverberate. In Oklahoma City, the FBI interviewed former congressional page Jordan Edmund -- and his lawyer -- for 2½ hours about inappropriate e-mails Foley may have sent him.
McCain Wants an Independent Investigation
In Michigan, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., broke from the Republican Party line and renewed a call for an independent investigation of the House page scandal. "We cannot tolerate the intolerable," McCain said, adding that congressional leadership should have called for an outside group of highly respected former congressmen to get to the bottom of inappropriate contact Foley may have had with pages and whether anyone in the House leadership erred by not doing something sooner about the problem.
Such a group would need to be selected and "look at this quickly and assign responsibility and recommend measures that need to be taken," McCain said. An independent investigation would restore "credibility" to the leadership, McCain said, because after all, "there's conflicting stories as we all know as to who knew what and when." Evoking the Watergate scandal, McCain said it all invokes former GOP Sen. "Howard Baker's famous comment: 'What did they know and when did they know it?'"
McCain's was not the only voice embattled Hastert may not have been happy to hear Tuesday. The Foley scandal continued to distract from issues the GOP leadership would rather control and has further instilled an impression that the House leadership tried to cover up Foley's behavior. In an ABC News poll released this week, 64 percent of those surveyed said they believed the GOP House leadership tried to cover up the Foley scandal, although 75 percent said they didn't believe the Democrats would have handled it any differently.
Nor was McCain even the only Arizona Republican congressman to add fuel to the fire Tuesday. Tuesday morning Rep. Jim Kolbe, R-Ariz., elucidated a previous report from the Washington Post about an incident Kolbe was told about that involved a former page receiving inappropriate e-mails from Foley.
A Different Account of the Story
"Some time after leaving the page program, an individual I had appointed as a page contacted my office to say he had received e-mails from Rep. Foley that made him uncomfortable," Kolbe said in a statement. Contrary to the Washington Post story, Kolbe said he "was not shown the content of the messages and was not told they were sexually explicit," nor did he "have a personal conversation with Mr. Foley about the matter." Kolbe said he instructed his staff to report this complaint to the clerk of the House, who "supervised the page program. This was done promptly."
"I assume e-mail contact ceased, since the former page never raised the issue again with my office. I believed then, and believe now, that this was the appropriate way to handle this incident, given the information I had and the fact that the young man was no longer a page and not subject to the jurisdiction of the program."
Hastert said that Kolbe "was on the page board" and it was his job to report such an incident. "I don't know anything more about it," he said.
Hastert spent some of the day Tuesday meeting with evangelical leader K.A. Paul, founder of the Global Peace Initiative, who prayed with the speaker at Hastert's Plano, Illinois, home. Paul said he had hoped to convince the speaker to step down, since the Foley scandal had become such a distraction.