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Pressure persists
on House speaker Hastert over Foley scandal

Pressure persists
on House speaker Hastert over Foley scandal

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The House page scandal engulfing former congressman Mark Foley and House Republicans persists as Speaker Dennis Hastert works to hold on to his job and rank-and-file Republicans worry that the pre-election drip-drip of damaging political news isn't over yet.

The House page scandal engulfing former congressman Mark Foley and House Republicans persists as Speaker Dennis Hastert works to hold on to his job and rank-and-file Republicans worry that the pre-election drip-drip of damaging political news isn't over yet. The daily disclosures about Foley's salacious Internet exchanges with former teenage congressional pages has GOP lawmakers and conservative activists fearing the foibles of other politicians may be exposed. ''People are very, very concerned,'' Rep. Ray LaHood of Illinois acknowledged Tuesday night. Republicans are increasingly nervous about their November midterm election prospects, and Hastert is working to contain the fallout and retain his job as the scandal dominates the 24-hour news media and the Internet blogosphere. ''I'm not going to do that,'' Hastert said when asked Tuesday by conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh whether he would quit his post. President Bush, speaking at a Stockton, Calif., elementary school on Tuesday, said he was disgusted by the Foley revelations and voiced support for Hastert. ''I know that he wants all the facts to come out,'' the president said. LaHood said Wednesday he is standing by Hastert and predicted his fellow House Republicans will too. It's not the speaker who should go, LaHood said, but the ''antiquated'' page system that brings 15- and 16-year-olds to the Capitol and has resulted in scandals in the past. ''Some members betray their trust by taking advantage of them. We should not subject young men and women to this kind of activity, this kind of vulnerability,'' LaHood said in a CNN interview. He said the program should be suspended, at least until its flaws can be corrected. Conservatives debated whether Hastert should resign over his handling of the controversy. Activist Richard A. Viguerie called for Hastert to step down. ''The fact that they just walked away from this--it sounds like they were trying to protect one of their own members rather than these young boys,'' Viguerie said on Fox News. Yet the Christian Coalition said it is standing behind Hastert, and Arizona Republican representative John Shadegg circulated a ''Dear Colleague'' letter in support of Hastert, saying calls for the speaker to resign were ''unwarranted and fundamentally unfair.'' Hastert says he first heard details of the Foley matter last Friday when the story was breaking. The number 2 House Republican, Rep. John Boehner of Ohio, and House GOP campaign chair Rep. Tom Reynolds of New York said they had spoken with Hastert about a complaint concerning a former page from Louisiana last spring after being told about it by Louisiana congressman Rodney Alexander, who had sponsored the teen. Hastert sought to blame Democrats for leaking sexually explicit computer instant messages between Foley and former pages from 2003. ''Democrats have...put this thing forward to try to block us,'' Hastert told Limbaugh. ''It's absolutely not true,'' countered House minority leader Nancy Pelosi. ABC News, which first reported on initial online exchanges from Foley that were questionable but not graphic, says sexually explicit messages reported last Friday were provided by former pages after its initial report Thursday. ABC News said Tuesday it had obtained additional instant messages. ''Can I have a good kiss goodnight,'' Foley was said to have messaged in one. A boy responded with cyber symbols and ''kiss.'' In another message, Foley invited the teenager to his Capitol Hill town house ''for a few drinks'' even though he knew the boy was under the legal drinking age. ''We may need to drink at my house so we dont get busted,'' Foley messaged. Foley's attorney, David Roth, said at a news conference in West Palm Beach, Fla., on Tuesday that he had no reason to believe that Foley ''ever had teenage boys at his house to have alcohol.'' Roth said Foley, 52, had himself been molested between the ages of 13 and 15 by a clergyman but added that Foley ''does not blame the trauma he sustained as a young adolescent for his totally inappropriate e-mails'' and instant messages. ''He continues to offer no excuse whatsoever for his conduct.'' Roth insisted Foley has never had sexual contact with a minor. He said the former Florida congressman, who had kept his sexual orientation private, now wanted people to know that he is gay. The House Ethics Committee, meanwhile, scheduled its first meeting on Foley's actions for Thursday, in closed session. The House voted last Friday to direct the ethics panel to inquire into the matter. Foley resigned abruptly on Friday after being confronted with the 2003 instant message exchanges. The FBI announced over the weekend it was opening a preliminary investigation into the matter. Separately, Kirk Fordham, a Reynolds aide who was a longtime former aide to Foley, told the Associated Press that he counseled Foley on Friday on how to deal with the developing story. Fordham said that when he learned the details of some of the instant messages, he confronted Foley. ''I said, 'Are these authentic?' and he said, 'Probably,' and he confirmed that they were likely his instant messages,'' Fordham said. Reynolds immediately said Foley had to resign, and GOP campaign aides drafted a resignation letter. (Andrew Taylor, AP)

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