Kolbe Matter Is Referred to House Ethics Panel

By Jonathan Weisman and James V. Grimaldi
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, October 18, 2006

The House committee looking into allegations that former congressman Mark Foley (R-Fla.) had improper contact with male former pages has been asked by lawmakers overseeing the page program to look into allegations involving a second lawmaker, House sources said yesterday.

Members of the Page Board sought the review after news reports last week that the Justice Department had opened a preliminary inquiry into a camping trip that Rep. Jim Kolbe (R-Ariz.) took with male former pages in 1996. That report sparked a conference call Monday among board members.

But because the Page Board, which consists of three House members and two senior House officials, does not have the authority to investigate members of Congress, the matter was turned over to the House ethics committee, formally known as the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct.

"It was about other allegations and I'd like to leave it at that," Rep. Dale E. Kildee (D-Mich.), a member of the Page Board, told reporters Monday as he exited a closed-door meeting of the ethics panel. "Let me just say" that the allegations are "not about Mr. Foley," he said. "It's only been allegations."

It was not clear what allegations the board was concerned about. But The Washington Post has learned of a potentially inappropriate incident involving Kolbe and a male page. The man recently told the House clerk's office and the FBI about an encounter with the Arizona Republican that occurred about five years ago when he was 16, according to someone familiar with the man's account. The page told authorities that he was "uncomfortable with a particular social encounter" that involved physical contact when he and Kolbe were alone, the source said yesterday.

The incident was not reported at the time, said the source, who emphasized that the encounter was based on the perception of a teenager five years ago.

A number of concerns about alleged improprieties in page matters have been referred to the committee since Foley abruptly resigned from the House on Sept. 29 after ABC News asked him about salacious instant messages he had sent to a former page, House leadership aides said. But such concerns so far have involved allegations that Foley's actions had been covered up or improperly handled, not that other House members have possibly engaged in inappropriate behavior.

"I haven't been contacted by anyone on this matter but if I am, I will fully cooperate with the appropriate authorities," Kolbe said in a statement last night.

Kolbe, the only openly gay Republican in Congress, will retire this year. He was a Senate page for three years.

Kolbe has said that he was aware in 2000 or 2001 of inappropriate e-mails that Foley had sent to one of his pages. Kolbe has said that he did not see the messages and was not told that they were sexually explicit. But a source with direct knowledge of the matter has disputed Kolbe's assertions.

Numerous pages have said that Kolbe kept in close contact with them during their time on Capitol Hill, and in some cases, after their service. Most of those pages said they viewed the congressman as a friend of the page program, and some considered him a mentor.

And Kolbe was known to be friendly with pages, sometimes joking with them in the cloakroom and corridors of the Capitol.

"Both Congressman Kolbe and Foley were known as friends of pages and really mentored the pages," said Billy Peard, a former page. Matt Schmitz, another former page, said he cautioned his younger brother, who also was a page, not to get too close to members of Congress.

Several pages said that Kolbe regularly offered up a dinner at his home for bids at the annual page auction, which raised money for charity and for the page prom. In 2002, a group paid $210 for the Kolbe dinner. Kolbe picked up the group at the page dorm and drove to his house on East Capitol Street.

After dinner, the guests talked about the history and beauty of the house and Kolbe made them an offer, according to one page in the 2002-2003 class who spoke on the condition of anonymity. Kolbe said the pages were "free to stay here" if any of them were ever back in town after the program ended, the former page said.

The former page said he did not consider the comment to be "a red flag. It was a personal decision not to go back" to Kolbe's house "without a friend or two."

The invitation emerged in an instant-message exchange between one former page and Foley, in which Foley seemed to be jealous of Kolbe. In January 2003, that former page, Jordan Edmund, told Foley that he and three other former pages had been invited to sleep at Kolbe's house during a one-year reunion of their page class.

The event that captured the Page Board's attention was a camping trip that Kolbe took with two former pages and others in 1996, an outing first reported by NBC News and now under review by the Justice Department. One law enforcement official cautioned that the inquiry is based on allegations from an unidentified source that have not been substantiated. The allegations involve Kolbe's behavior toward one of the former pages, the official said.

The three-day trip down the Grand Canyon also included several Kolbe staff members; Kolbe's sister, Beth; and National Park Service employees, Kolbe spokeswoman Korenna Cline said last week. She denied any improprieties had occurred.

The ethics committee has moved expeditiously through its Foley investigation, taking testimony from Kirk Fordham, Foley's former chief of staff, who told the panel last week that he brought Foley's behavior to the attention of House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert's chief of staff in 2003. House Majority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) is expected to testify this week about his contention that he alerted Hastert this spring about Foley's conduct.

Tomorrow, former House clerk Jeff Trandahl -- perhaps the most important witness -- will appear before the committee. Trandahl should know about suspect e-mails that were referred to him as far back as 2000, about repeated efforts that Fordham said Trandahl had made to raise alarm about Foley's behavior, and about his own confrontation with Foley last November, just before Trandahl's abrupt departure from the House, sources said.

Meanwhile, Foley's attorney said in Miami that the former congressman will identify the Roman Catholic priest who he says sexually abused him as a young boy as part of Foley's "healing process."

Gerald Richman said Foley will identify the man to the Archdiocese of Miami so the church "can then deal appropriately with the issue," according to Reuters.

Soon after Foley's resignation, his attorneys confirmed that Foley is gay and said that he had been sexually abused by a priest while he was growing up in Florida.

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