Hastert Expresses Faith in Staff As FBI Questions Former Page

By Charles Babington
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 11, 2006

House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) said yesterday that he believes his staff has handled the Mark Foley matter properly, but "if they did cover something up, then they should not continue to have their jobs."

Hastert's remarks came amid a quickening pace of investigations into Foley's relationships with teenage congressional pages and the House's handling of warnings about the Florida Republican's behavior. FBI agents interviewed former House page Jordan Edmund in Oklahoma City, and Foley's former chief of staff, Kirk Fordham, is scheduled to speak with House ethics committee members and staffers on Thursday.

Edmund was among the male pages who received sexually explicit instant messages from Foley, a six-term House member. Foley abruptly resigned on Sept. 29, just as ABC News was airing some of the graphic exchanges.

Speaking yesterday to reporters in Illinois, Hastert again said he knew nothing of alarms raised in some circles about Foley's behavior toward pages until the day he resigned. Two high-ranking GOP House members have said they mentioned to Hastert concerns about 2005 e-mails that Foley sent to a former page from Louisiana. The speaker's office says that two of his high-ranking aides -- counsel Ted Van Der Meid and deputy chief of staff Mike Stokke -- also knew of those e-mails but did not inform Hastert.

Hastert said he recalls no such conversations with colleagues. He said his aides have "handled it as well as they should." He added: "In 20/20 hindsight, probably you could do everything a little bit better. . . . If anybody's found to have hidden information or covered up information, they really should be gone."

In Oklahoma City, Edmund and his attorney, Stephen Jones, talked to reporters after meeting with FBI agents. Edmund "answered their questions and cooperated to the fullest," Jones said.

The FBI is investigating only whether Foley committed a crime. The ethics committee has jurisdiction over current House members and employees, and is focusing on how they handled suspicions about Foley.

Foley, who is in a Florida treatment center for alcoholism, has said through a lawyer that he never had sexual contact with a minor. Congressional pages are high school students -- typically 16 or 17 years old -- who spend a semester or two in Washington and live in a Capitol Hill dorm. E-mail records indicate that Foley kept in touch with some of them for several years after they left Washington.

Meanwhile yesterday, Rep. Jim Kolbe (R-Ariz.) issued a statement regarding his knowledge of one complaint about Foley's dealings with pages. Kolbe said that, several years ago, a former page alerted his office to "e-mails from Rep. Foley that made him uncomfortable." Kolbe, a former member of the House Page Board, said he did not see the messages "and was not told they were sexually explicit."

Kolbe said that, at his suggestion, the complaint was taken to Foley's office and to the House clerk, who oversees the page program on the speaker's behalf.

"I believed then, and believe now, that this was the appropriate way to handle this incident," Kolbe said.

Also yesterday, former House clerk Jeff Trandahl said through a lawyer that he will cooperate fully with the FBI and the ethics committee. Trandahl, considered a key witness to several reported meetings regarding Foley and House GOP leaders, has not spoken with reporters since the scandal broke two weeks ago.

Fordham resigned as chief of staff to Rep. Thomas M. Reynolds (R-N.Y.) last week after it was learned that he had tried to negotiate with ABC News on Foley's behalf. Fordham has said that several years ago he implored Hastert's chief of staff, Scott Palmer, to help persuade Foley to stop showing so much attention to male pages.

Palmer released a statement last week saying: "What Kirk Fordham said did not happen."

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