By Charles Babington
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 13, 2006
A key player in the unfolding scandal involving teenage pages and a Florida lawmaker testified for more than four hours before a House ethics committee panel yesterday, repeating his assertions that Speaker J. Dennis Hastert's top aide had early warnings about the congressman's questionable behavior toward youths, according to the witness's attorney.
Kirk Fordham, who was a chief of staff to then-Rep. Mark Foley (R), was consistent with his previous statements when he gave sworn testimony to a panel investigating the House's handling of Foley's actions, lawyer Timothy J. Heaphy told reporters after the two men emerged from an afternoon of questioning.
Fordham has said that he turned to Hastert's chief of staff, Scott Palmer, in 2003 in hopes of persuading Foley to stop showing so much interest in teenage pages, who work for a semester or two on Capitol Hill. Fordham has said Palmer later assured him that he had met privately with Foley and had informed Hastert (R-Ill.) of the situation.
Palmer has been publicly mum on the Foley affair except for a seven-word statement issued days ago: "What Kirk Fordham said did not happen."
Hastert says he knew nothing of concerns about Foley's behavior toward House pages until Sept. 29. That was the day Foley, 52, abruptly resigned his House seat as ABC News was reporting that he had sent sexually graphic electronic messages to former pages.
Fordham's testimony places crucial questions about the Foley affair in front of the highest level of the House Republican leadership: Did Hastert's top aides have reason to think Foley was behaving improperly? Did they relay the concerns to the speaker? And if they did not, why not?
Hastert spokesman Ron Bonjean issued a statement after Fordham's testimony, saying: "The ethics committee is investigating this matter and we are confident in its ability to determine the real facts. The Speaker has said that any person who is found guilty of improper conduct involving sexual contact or communication with a page should immediately resign, be fired, or be subjected to a vote of expulsion."
Heaphy was with Fordham for nearly five hours as Fordham spoke with three ethics committee members and their staffers in a Capitol basement meeting room. Heaphy told reporters that his client "has been forthcoming with them. He has been consistent in his accounts of these events when he talked to the FBI and today."
The ethics committee has no jurisdiction over Foley, who is no longer a House member, but the FBI is investigating whether he committed a crime.
Fordham worked for other GOP lawmakers after leaving Foley's staff; he resigned last week as chief of staff to Rep. Thomas M. Reynolds (R-N.Y.) after it was learned that he had tried to negotiate with ABC News on behalf of Foley regarding the lewd instant messages.
While Fordham's assertions deal with Foley's alleged face-to-face behavior toward pages, another thread of the scandal involves two other key Hastert aides -- counsel Ted Van Der Meid and deputy chief of staff Mike Stokke. They have said they were alerted last year about e-mails Foley had sent to a former page from Louisiana. The e-mails, which asked the boy what he wanted for his birthday and requested he send a photo of himself, alarmed the youth and his parents. ABC News's eventual reporting of the e-mails led to leaks of the far more explicit instant messages to former pages.
A chronology issued by Hastert's office on Sept. 30 said that soon after Stokke and Van Der Meid became aware of the e-mails, two members of the House Page Board spoke with Foley, who told them that his actions were innocent. Stokke and Van Der Meid said they did not alert Hastert or Palmer, and the speaker has said they acted properly.
Yesterday morning, the ethics panel spent more than an hour with Rep. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.). She is among the members of the House Page Board who were not alerted about the e-mails sent to the Louisiana youth. "I'm a member of the Page Board who was not informed of the e-mail messages that were sent," Capito told reporters as she left the session.
She and another Page Board member -- Rep. Dale E. Kildee (D-Mich.) -- have said that they should have been informed and consulted. Democrats say an inquiry into early concerns about Foley might have uncovered his objectionable communications, which had been whispered about in some circles of former pages.
Instead, two officials quietly met with Foley late last year. They were then-House Clerk Jeff Trandahl and Rep. John M. Shimkus (R-Ill.), chairman of the Page Board. Shimkus is to testify before the ethics panel today, his office said.
Officials expected to testify next week or later, House sources said, include Trandahl and House Majority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio). Boehner and Reynolds have said they told Hastert about the e-mails to the Louisiana youth. The speaker says he does not recall such conversations.
Aides including Palmer, Stokke and Van Der Meid are virtually certain to be summoned, House insiders say, but it is unclear when.
The ethics committee members attending yesterday's sessions were the chairman, Rep. Doc Hastings (R-Wash.); the ranking Democrat, Rep. Howard L. Berman (Calif.); and Rep. Judy Biggert (R-Ill.). The fourth subcommittee member handling the Foley matter is Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones (D-Ohio).