House Ethics Committee Holds a News Conference

CQ Transcripts Wire
Thursday, October 5, 2006 3:26 PM

OCTOBER 5, 2006










HASTINGS: Good afternoon.

Earlier today the House Ethics Committee voted unanimously to establish an investigative subcommittee regarding any conduct of House members, officers and staff related to information concerning improper conduct involving members and current and former pages.

Given the seriousness of this issue and this matter, Congressman Howard Berman and I will serve as the chairman and ranking minority member of the subcommittee in order to personally direct this investigation. Representatives Judy Biggert and Stephanie Tubbs Jones will serve with us on the subcommittee and we will be assisted by a team of skilled investigators.

Like all Americans, we are both appalled at the revelations of highly improper communication between former Congressman Representative Mark Foley and a young man who came to know Mr. Foley while working here in the Capitol as a congressional page.

Appointment as a page in the House is an honor and privilege for any young man or woman and provides an extraordinary education into the workings of the legislative branch of government. All of us who serve here as members of Congress appreciate the important role that pages play in the work in the House.

We owe all pages and their parents our best efforts to make the page experience as educational, fulfilling and safe as possible.

In recent days, the adequacy of those efforts have been called into question.

Simply put, the American people, and especially the parents of all current and former pages, are entitled to know how this situation was handled. And we are determined to answer their questions.

Congressman Berman and I will do so as quickly as possible. And we pledge to you that our investigation will go wherever the evidence leads us.

HASTINGS: Admittedly, this is a busy time for any member of Congress. But Howard and I have agreed that we have no higher priority in the days ahead and are committed to act accordingly.

Indeed, shortly following the meeting of the full House Ethics Committee, our new investigative subcommittee met for the first time and unanimously approved nearly four dozen subpoenas for documents and testimony.

Many of the individuals we plan to talk to are members, officers and staffs of the House. For that reason, we sincerely hope that most of the subpoenas we authorize today will prove unnecessary. Because we believe that most of these individuals share our desire to get quick and truthful answers to the questions that are being asked by so many Americans.


BERMAN: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

I just -- this was a joint statement on -- Chairman Hastings read on behalf of both of us. I just want to add a few points.

In terms of time frame, we are looking at weeks, not months. I want to reemphasize the point that the chairman made, that we will go where the evidence takes us.

BERMAN: And I want to say that when I was appointed ranking minority member by Leader Pelosi, I indicated at that time I wanted no part of an incumbent protection agency.

After five and a half months of working very closely with Chairman Hastings on a variety of issues -- most of which you appropriately do not know anything about, at least at this time -- I'm convinced that both of us, as well as Judy Biggert and Stephanie Tubbs Jones -- we all have strong partisan feelings, we have passionate concerns about issues, we have ideological and philosophical differences; but that, on this committee, and for purposes of this investigation, we are going to put those partisan considerations totally aside, as I have seen and witnessed from the chairman during the past five and a half months.

And I do want to introduce the gentleman who will be leading the staff in the investigation of this matter, William O'Reilly (ph).

QUESTION: What can you tell us about allegations that Republican leaders knew about Mr. Foley's activities for some time?

HASTINGS: Well, as we mentioned in the statement, we're going to look at all the information that, obviously, is public. And we're going to go forward and see where that evidence leads.

But, obviously, we can't comment on that at this point.

QUESTION: There are reports that Speaker Hastert is going to appoint a free and independent counsel to have an investigation. I'm wondering how many investigations will there be of this matter. Or does that fit into your investigation?

HASTINGS: We're going to do what we feel that we were charged to do by the resolution on the floor last week.

QUESTION: But do you know about Louis Freeh?

HASTINGS: Only what the press reports have said.

QUESTION: Based on the revelations of this week, can you tell us whether the speaker still enjoys the full support of the Republican majority?

HASTINGS: I will simply say that he has made his statement. And members have made their statement. I certainly go along with that.

QUESTION: Did you consider at all hiring an outside counsel or investigator?

HASTINGS: We are going to do what we feel we are charged to do.


BERMAN: Speaking for myself, and having worked with him, now, for five months, I have a great deal of confidence in Bill O'Reilly (ph) and his staff's ability to do this in a vigorous, effective, intelligent, quick and nonpartisan way.

QUESTION: So the answer's no? You didn't...

BERMAN: That's right.

QUESTION: You said four dozen subpoenas. Is the speaker among them?

HASTINGS: We're not going to get into any of that detail at this point.

QUESTION: You said weeks, not months. Is there a particular -- you said weeks not months, how important is it that it's done expeditiously?

HASTINGS: We feel it's very important for the institution to get this done as quickly as possible. And we agree on that. As a matter of fact, the full committee, in appointing the investigative subcommittee, felt exactly the same way.

QUESTION: Will it be done before the election?

HASTINGS: We're simply going to work as quickly as we possibly can.

QUESTION: Mr. Chairman, will the committee have any interest in talking to some of the pages who may have exchanged some of these...

HASTINGS: We can't get into that either.

QUESTION: Mr. Chairman, you usually defer to the FBI or law enforcement in terms of criminal investigation (inaudible)

BERMAN: Our jurisdiction for this investigative subcommittee was laid out by the chairman. And it's dealing with the conduct as a result of the actions.

We do not have jurisdiction over former Congressman Foley, because he's no longer a member of the House. We are dealing with a fundamental institutional issue that we think was placed squarely in the hands of the Ethics Committee both by the House's action last Friday and by any logical interpretation of the rules.

QUESTION: Do you think the House has been damaged by this?

HASTINGS: Well, the role of the Ethics Committee is to make sure that the American people have trust in their government, and that's our role. We take that very, seriously.

QUESTION: Do you still personally support the speaker?

HASTINGS: I think the speaker has done an excellent job.

QUESTION: What are the potential penalties that folks would face under this...

HASTINGS: We can't get into that.

QUESTION: The speaker set up a page hotline. I'm wondering will you guys be answering those calls or...

HASTINGS: I can't really comment on that either.

QUESTION: Will the subcommittee operate like a usual investigative subcommittee? Will you make a statement of alleged violations (inaudible)?

BERMAN: It's slightly different than the ordinary investigative subcommittee which has a specific person as the target. The jurisdiction here is a subject matter and we'll see what flows from that.

But our first effort is to conduct this subject matter investigation.

QUESTION: Do you have a date on when these subpoenas are supposed to be responded to?

HASTINGS: Well, we just have the one subcommittee now and...

QUESTION: (inaudible)

BERMAN: These are the details that we're just not going to discuss.

We think this is important enough that we've made a tremendous exception to our general rule of not ever looking -- coming out talking to you folks because of the importance of the issue.

But in terms of confidentiality and process, we're going to operate -- we think we have to operate in the traditional way of doing our investigation: quietly and without announcing it until we're finished.

QUESTION: How often are you going to meet? Every day?

HASTINGS: We need to be aggressive as we possibly can.

QUESTION: Does your jurisdiction extend to staffers as well as current members, or just members?

HASTINGS: Yes, our responsibility is for the House.

BERMAN: Members, officers and staff.

QUESTION: Mr. Hastings, in other cases there have been public hearings as a result of the findings of the subcommittee. Is there a possibility that there may be public hearings?

HASTINGS: I'm just not going to comment on that at this point.

QUESTION: Can you amplify on the importance of the issue? You said that's the rationale for why the committee's breaking its long- standing tradition. What is the importance of the issue?

HASTINGS: We're dealing with children.

QUESTION: The microphone, please.

HASTING: I'm sorry.

We're dealing with children. We have -- we are, the Congress is in local parentis here. There appears to be something has gone terribly wrong, and because of that we think it's a deep concern to every member of the committee.

QUESTION: Mr. Hastings, can you comment on the page program in general? How do you feel that that works? And should that be expanded or reviewed?

HASTINGS: I think the page program, as I mentioned in my statement, is a very important program, not only for the members of Congress, but also for the individuals that participate in the page program. It's an integral part of our program.

QUESTION: Mr. Hastings, you said the speaker has done an excellent job. But do you question his leadership at all, personally?

HASTINGS: Listen, I don't want to get into all of that.

We are here to talk about the Ethics Committee is going to do regarding the incidents that happened last week. And that's what we want to focus on.

QUESTION: Can you tell us how long the full committee met this morning and then how long the subcommittee met?

HASTINGS: Well, we started at 10:00. Probably roughly two hours for the full committee, maybe a little bit longer, and maybe a little bit longer than that, an hour and a half or so on the subcommittee.

QUESTION: You said the speaker's done an excellent job. Can you really be objective in assessing what blame he might have as a result of this matter?

HASTINGS: Again, we are going to -- what we want to do is focus on what is at hand, and we take that responsibility very, very seriously, and that's what I'm going to focus on.

BERMAN: These questions, I think, get to the point I was trying to make. We have -- we all have strong feelings about -- about party, about issues, about philosophy. But for purposes of this investigation, those feelings are irrelevant. And I think that's all that the chairman and I are trying to say.

We all, in some other context, can answer all other kinds of questions about what we think are going on but, for this purpose, those aren't the questions that we should be asked.


HASTINGS: I'm sorry. I didn't hear what you said.

QUESTION: You said Mr. Foley is not in your jurisdiction, but you can still investigate his past actions as relates to...

HASTINGS: The responsibility of the Ethics Committee is for members of Congress. He's no longer a member of Congress. But, clearly, actions leading up to that are items of interest that we'll be looking at.

QUESTION: Can you address -- just to get back to the earlier question -- people from the outside Washington looking at this would say, this is a group of folks who are investigating people they know. Some of you have received campaign contributions from people who you might be investigating.


TUBBS JONES: I'm Stephanie Tubbs Jones. I come from Cleveland, Ohio.

Regardless of relationships, we as members of this committee have a responsibility to the House and to the public. I bring to this podium 10 years as a judge, eight years as an elected D.A. from Cuyahoga County, Ohio, and my eight years in Congress. And my reputation is too important to put it aside for purposes of some friendship or regardless of what we have. We have a job to do, and we got to do our job.

QUESTION: Ms. Biggert, you were very close to the speaker. You've been close to him over a long number of years. And I'd like to have you talk about your relationship with him here in Congress and how impartial you can be.

BIGGERT: OK. I'm Judy Biggert from District 13 in Illinois. And my district does abut the speaker's district. But I think that all of us on this committee were chosen because we are thought to be fair.

BIGGERT: We're thought to be ethical and have a high integrity and it's like being a judge or being a jury that we have to have -- when we look at this kind of situation, then we have to be impartial.

And I think that no matter who serves on this committee takes this job very seriously.

It is peer review. And it is looking at our colleagues and we're chosen for that specifically and I know it's difficult.

But we're looking at a great number of people, not just one specific person.

And, first of all, we have to establish the facts. And the facts will lead to us to who, if there is someone who perhaps did a cover- up.

So first we have to establish who knew what, who did it and why and what action they took.

So I'm not going to talk about any one person. It makes no difference. The evidence will lead us, as the chairman said, to find the facts as they stand and take action that is needed.


BERMAN: I think it's very important to get this straight. The committee, under House rules and committee rules, has the authority to discipline members, staff, officers, up to expulsion in terms of members -- but censure, reprimand.

BERMAN: This investigation initially -- and there's a whole process for that. At this point, what we're launching is an investigation into this whole affair, without a specific target.

But because Mark Foley has left the Congress, we don't have the authority to discipline him in any way. The reason what happened is relevant is because there are people now who have responsibilities, and we're gathering the facts which are related to his conduct to make judgments. And that's what we'll be doing.

QUESTION: Do you have the authority to subpoena Mark Foley?

HASTINGS: We have the authority to subpoena anybody in the territory of the United States. We do not yet have extra-territorial jurisdiction.


BIGGERT: You have to remember that we're not prosecuting. We are not the U.S. attorney. We are only to look at the rules of the House and were they violated and did someone bring disrespect on the House of Representatives. And that's our charge.

The FBI is already involved. The Department of Justice is involved. They may take, you know, completely different action than we do, but we are only involved with the House rules.

QUESTION: Could there be other members involved in similar behavior? And what's the scope of your investigation?

HASTINGS: Well, again, that's part of what we are endeavoring to do. I want to thank you all for coming.

Before we quit here, I just simply want to say, the remarks that I made regarding Speaker Hastert is not related to matter at hand here.

Thank you very much for being here.



Oct 05, 2006 14:41 ET .EOF

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