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Staffer Cites Earlier Role by Hastert's Office

Federal officials leave former congressman Mark Foley's office in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. Foley resigned over his exchange of messages with teenage pages.
Federal officials leave former congressman Mark Foley's office in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. Foley resigned over his exchange of messages with teenage pages. (By J. Pat Carter -- Associated Press)

Now, a second House aide familiar with Foley and his actions told The Washington Post yesterday that "Scott Palmer had spoken to Foley prior to November 2005." The aide spoke on the condition of anonymity because the matter is now the subject of a criminal investigation and the House ethics committee inquiry.

Two law enforcement officials said yesterday that the FBI had not yet determined whether a crime had occurred in the Foley case. Justice Department and FBI officials have cautioned that cases involving the enticement of minors are notoriously difficult to prosecute.

On Wednesday night, Palmer was described as highly emotional while aides sifted through e-mails and files to determine whether he had ever spoken to Fordham. Several people who spoke with Palmer said the chief of staff was emphatic in denying that he knew anything about Foley's questionable contacts with young male pages.

Palmer, who shares a townhouse with Hastert when they are in town, is more powerful than all but a few House members. Members know that he speaks for Hastert.

The divergent accounts have highlighted the holes in the public's understanding of Foley's undoing. And they are sure to ratchet up the pressure on Trandahl to come forward with his knowledge of events. As House clerk between January 1999 and November 2005, Trandahl had direct control over the page program.

Pages apparently saw Trandahl as a strict disciplinarian. In one instant-message exchange obtained by The Post, a former page, on his way to his first annual reunion in Washington, told Foley in January 2003 that "everyone is going to be pretty wasted a lot of the time in dc."

He then added, "well we dont have the [expletive] clerk to fire us anymore. . . . we didnt like trandahl that much . . . he isnt a nice guy . . . and he gets really scarey when he is mad."

Trandahl's departure came within days of his confrontation with Foley over e-mails that the congressman had sent a former page. House aides say the circumstances of Trandahl's exit were oddly quiet. The departure of a staff member of long standing, especially one as important as the House clerk, is usually marked with considerable fanfare, said Scott Lilly, a former Democratic staff director of the House Appropriations Committee. Debate is suspended in mid-afternoon to accommodate a stream of testimonials from lawmakers.

Trandahl's departure was marked by a one-minute salute from Shimkus and a brief insert into the Congressional Record.

"My one-hour Special Order changed to a five-minute Special Order, now to a one-minute," Shimkus said. "I just want to say thank you for the work you have done."

Lilly said: "He seemed to suddenly disappear in a puff of smoke."

Trandahl, now the executive director of the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, has not returned repeated phone calls and e-mails.

Congressional aides point to another factor that links Trandahl to the Foley matter. A member of the board of the national gay rights group Human Rights Campaign, Trandahl is openly homosexual and personally close to the now-disgraced former lawmaker, who announced through his lawyer this week that he is gay.

Staff writers Jim VandeHei, Charles Babington, Dan Eggen and Allan Lengel contributed to this report.

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