Boehner and Ex-Clerk of House Testify
Friday, October 20, 2006
Two key congressional figures testified before a House ethics panel yesterday about their roles in the Mark Foley scandal, reportedly sticking to accounts indicating that Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) or his top aides had been alerted to concerns about the disgraced Florida Republican's behavior toward teenage pages before it became public.
The committee spent more than four hours questioning Jeff Trandahl, a central figure who has remained publicly silent about the affair. As House clerk from 1999 through last year, Trandahl oversaw the page program and dealt with several complaints about the actions of Foley, who abruptly resigned his House seat Sept. 29 as ABC News was reporting on sexually graphic electronic messages he had exchanged with former pages.
Trandahl joined Rep. John M. Shimkus (R-Ill.), the chairman of the House Page Board, in quietly confronting Foley last fall about e-mails that the lawmaker had sent to a Louisiana boy, which the youth and his parents found troubling. Those e-mails were not nearly as explicit as the messages that emerged later from other sources.
Hastert's office has said that two high-ranking aides knew about the meeting with Foley but did not tell the speaker or his chief of staff, Scott Palmer. The board's other members, including a Democratic congressman, were also not told.
Trandahl did not speak to reporters as he left the ethics committee's office in the Capitol basement yesterday, but his attorney, Cono Namorato, said in a statement that Trandahl "has cooperated fully with the investigation being conducted by the FBI" and the ethics committee and "stands ready to render additional assistance if needed."
A source who has spoken with Trandahl since the scandal broke said the former House clerk indicated that he had alerted Hastert's staff in recent years to concerns that Foley was showing inappropriate attention to teenage pages. The source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said he had no reason to think Trandahl would give a different version to the FBI or the four-member subcommittee of the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct. Trandahl's main contact on Hastert's staff appeared to have been counsel Ted Van Der Meid, the source said.
Hastert spokesman Ron Bonjean, asked to respond to the source's comments, said the ethics panel "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," Bonjean said.
Also yesterday, House Majority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) became the highest-ranking lawmaker to testify to the ethics panel on the Foley matter. Speaking to reporters after about an hour of questioning, he said: "I told the committee the same thing that I have told many of you."
Boehner originally told The Washington Post that he had spoken with Hastert earlier this year about Foley's e-mails to the Louisiana youth. He later said that he was not sure he had told Hastert, and still later said that he was fairly certain he had told the speaker.
Rep. Thomas M. Reynolds (R-N.Y.) has said that he had also spoken with Hastert about Foley's e-mails to the former page from Louisiana, but he has not met with the ethics committee. Hastert has said he does not recall such conversations, but does not dispute that they may have occurred.
The FBI, which interviewed Trandahl last week, is looking into whether Foley committed a crime. The ethics committee is examining whether House members or staffers handled the matter properly.