Aide Says He Reported Foley 3 Years Ago
Thursday, October 5, 2006; 2:07 AM
WASHINGTON -- House Speaker Dennis Hastert's political support showed signs of cracking on Wednesday as Republicans fled an election-year scandal spawned by steamy computer messages from former Rep. Mark Foley to teenage male pages.
At the same time, Foley's former chief of staff said in an Associated Press interview that he first warned Hastert's aides more than three years ago that Foley's behavior toward pages was troublesome. That was long before GOP leaders acknowledged learning of the problem.
Kirk Fordham, who was Foley's top aide until January 2004, said he had "more than one conversation with senior staff at the highest level of the House of Representatives asking them to intervene" several years ago.
Fordham resigned Wednesday as staff chief for another lawmaker caught up in the scandal, New York Rep. Thomas Reynolds, the House GOP campaign chief who says he alerted Hastert to concerns about Foley last spring.
The aide's claim drew a swift, unequivocal denial from Hastert's chief of staff. "What Kirk Fordham said did not happen," Scott Palmer said through a spokesman.
Hastert's political difficulties were evident half a continent away.
Rep. Roy Blunt of Missouri, third-ranking leader, pointedly told reporters he would have handled the matter differently than the speaker, had he known of it.
"I think I could have given some good advice here, which is, You have to be curious, you have to ask all the questions you can think of," said Blunt, a member of the leadership. "You absolutely can't decide not to look into activities because one individual's parents don't want you to."
Republican Rep. Ron Lewis of Kentucky, in a tougher-than-expected re-election race, abruptly canceled an invitation for Hastert to join him at a fundraiser next week.
"I'm taking the speaker's words at face value," Lewis told the AP. "I have no reason to doubt him. But until this is cleared up, I want to know the facts. If anyone in our leadership has done anything wrong, then I will be the first in line to condemn it."
Republican officials said at least a few disgruntled members of the GOP rank and file had discussed whether to call on the speaker to step aside. It was not known how far the effort had gone. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity, citing the sensitivity of the issue.
Hastert told the Chicago Tribune on Wednesday night that he has no thoughts of resigning. He blamed ABC News, which broke the Foley e-mail story, and Democratic operatives for the mushrooming scandal.