Correction to This Article
An Oct. 25 article incorrectly said that House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert's appearance before the House ethics committee was the first such appearance by a speaker since 1997. Hastert appeared before an ethics investigative panel one other time, in 2004.

Hastert, Reynolds Testify About GOP's Handling of Foley Case

Rep. Thomas M. Reynolds (R-N.Y.) takes a break from testifying before the House ethics committee on the page scandal. He had said earlier that he warned Speaker J. Dennis Hastert this spring about then-Rep. Mark Foley.
Rep. Thomas M. Reynolds (R-N.Y.) takes a break from testifying before the House ethics committee on the page scandal. He had said earlier that he warned Speaker J. Dennis Hastert this spring about then-Rep. Mark Foley. (By Chip Somodevilla -- Getty Images)
By Jonathan Weisman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 25, 2006

House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) spent nearly three hours behind closed doors with the House ethics committee yesterday, describing what he knew about then-Rep. Mark Foley's relationships with young male pages and when he knew it.

The extraordinary appearance came just a few hours after the House Republican campaign chief, Rep. Thomas M. Reynolds (N.Y.), went before the committee to reiterate his contention that he personally told Hastert in the spring about suspicious e-mails that Foley had sent to a Louisiana teenager. Hastert has said he has no recollection of that conversation and did not learn of the Foley matter until it surfaced in late September.

"Since I had requested prompt action by the committee, I took the opportunity to thank them for moving expeditiously to look into this matter," Hastert said as he emerged from the committee's Capitol basement hearing room. "I answered every question they asked fully and to the best of my ability."

The twinning of Hastert's appearance with that of Reynolds surprised House Republican and Democratic leadership aides, and it only heightened the drama of the committee's deliberations.

Hastert is the first House speaker to testify before the committee since Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) discussed a much-criticized book deal in 1997. But in that case, committee members scheduled Gingrich's testimony at night, sparing him a daylight walk through the throng of reporters and camera crews camped outside the hearing room.

Also unlike Gingrich, Hastert had to appear immediately after the chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, Reynolds, who had already challenged Hastert's version of events.

"I was happy to voluntarily do my part to assist in their inquiry and answer any questions they had," Reynolds said yesterday. "Earlier this month I had several opportunities to answer your questions and tell you what I know, but the committee has asked us not to share the substance of our discussion.

"I would only add that a full and fair investigation of the facts is vital to ensuring the continued integrity of this institution, which is why I strongly encourage any of my colleagues who have information that may be of relevance to bring it to the committee's attention at once."

House Majority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) testified last week that he also told Hastert in the spring about concerns stemming from what House leaders have termed "over-friendly" e-mails from Foley to the former page from Louisiana.

Yesterday's drama was the strongest indication yet that the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, as the ethics committee is formally known, may be nearing the end of its investigative work. The committee interviewed Hastert's chief of staff, Scott Palmer, on Monday and could call up his deputy chief of staff, Mike Stokke, and his counsel, Ted Van Der Meid, this week.

But neither Democratic nor Republican leadership aides believe that a final report will be released ahead of the Nov. 7 elections, which have been roiled by the Foley matter.

The inquiry has been focused on the handling of Foley by House leaders. As far back as 2000, Foley's advances on former pages over the Internet had come to the attention of one congressman, Rep. Jim Kolbe (R-Ariz.). Kolbe had brought the matter to then-House Clerk Jeff Trandahl, who reported to the speaker's office.

According to sources close to Trandahl, the former clerk repeatedly brought concerns about Foley to the congressman's chief of staff, Kirk Fordham. Fordham told the committee that when he was unable to stop Foley's advances, he asked Palmer to intervene in 2002 or 2003. Palmer has said Fordham's version of events did not happen.

Aides in the speaker's office have said that the matter did not come to their attention until the fall of 2005 and that it was handled without Hastert's involvement.

Hastert tried to deflect attention from GOP leaders yesterday, suggesting, as other Republicans have, that Democrats may have known about Foley's explicit instant messages but did not report them to authorities. Instead, Republicans have said, Democrats shopped them to the news media before the elections.

Hastert said he encouraged the committee "to continue to move forward to get to the bottom of this, including finding out who was aware and when they were aware of the sexually explicit instant messages that were created three years ago."

Two former pages who were the sources of the instant messages have told The Washington Post that they did not come forward until after ABC News published the suspicious but not the sexual e-mails. A Republican former page said he wanted to expose Foley's more outrageous actions and had no intention of sparking a wider scandal. A Democratic former page, who supplied the messages to The Post, did so several days after ABC News obtained its messages.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company