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Bush weighs in on
Foley as investigation continues

Bush weighs in on
Foley as investigation continues

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President Bush on Wednesday called ex-congressman Mark Foley's conduct regarding House male pages ''disgusting'' and expressed support for Speaker Dennis Hastert's efforts to determine how officials handled the problem.

President Bush on Wednesday called ex-congressman Mark Foley's conduct regarding House male pages ''disgusting'' and expressed support for Speaker Dennis Hastert's efforts to determine how officials handled the problem. Bush's remarks at a White House news conference came as Peggy Sampson, supervisor of the page program, was questioned before the House Ethics Committee. The panel is investigating not only Foley's inappropriate and sometimes salacious electronic messages to former pages but also whether House officials covered up Foley's come-ons. Sampson would not comment to reporters after the more than two-hour closed session. The unique page program allows high schoolers, sponsored by their congressmen, to attend classes in the congressional page school and work for legislators as errand-runners. The committee also questioned Wren Ivester, who is in charge of pages sponsored by Democratic lawmakers. Asked about the scandal, Bush said, ''This is disgusting behavior when a member of Congress betrays the trust of the Congress and the family that sent a young page to serve.'' And he defended Hastert, who said he first learned of Foley's behavior in late September. ''I think the speaker's strong statements have made it clear to not only the party...but to the country that he wants to find out the facts,'' Bush said. ''Denny is very credible as far as I'm concerned. He's done a fine job as speaker.'' Foley sent e-mails and instant messages, some of them sexually explicit, to male pages after they left the program. A four-member investigative panel of the ethics committee, which is evenly divided along party lines, is sorting out conflicting accounts, including whether Hastert's office learned of the Florida Republican's inappropriate conduct in 2002, 2003, or 2005. All those years were mentioned, depending on who is telling the story. Kirk Fordham, Foley's onetime chief of staff, is scheduled for questioning Thursday before the investigative panel. He said he notified Hastert chief of staff Scott Palmer in 2002 or 2003 about Foley's inappropriate conduct and that he subsequently learned that Palmer met with Foley. An internal review released by Hastert's office on September 30 says the first notice to Hastert's aides about Foley wasn't until the fall of 2005 and that it didn't come from Fordham. Rather, the review said, it came from the office of Republican congressman Rodney Alexander of Louisiana, after the lawmaker learned of an overly friendly but not sexually explicit e-mail from Foley to a page from Alexander's state. Palmer has publicly disputed Fordham's account. It was not clear when the ethics committee will question him. The contradiction between the staff aides is almost outdone by conflicting statements by two members of Hastert's leadership team: Majority Leader John Boehner of Ohio and House Republican campaign chairman Tom Reynolds of New York. Longtime conservative leader Paul Weyrich said Tuesday that Hastert had assured him that Boehner was wrong when he said that he had told Hastert months ago about the page problem with Foley. ''As to Congressman Thomas M. Reynolds, the speaker said, 'If he had mentioned this problem to me, I surely would have taken notice,''' Weyrich said in an e-mailed account of a phone conversation with Hastert. Weyrich quoted Hastert as saying that Reynolds often came to him with requests to help incumbents in trouble. ''The speaker said he signs off on the majority of requests and only listens with one ear because the requests are repetitive,'' Weyrich said. ''Did Reynolds during such a session drop the bombshell about Foley in the speaker's lap without the speaker's comprehending what was being told to him? 'That is possible but unlikely,' the speaker said. In any case, he has absolutely no recollection,'' Weyrich said. Boehner's spokesman, Kevin Madden, said slightly different accounts were not surprising because the events took place four months ago. A spokesman for Hastert had no comment. A Reynolds spokesman, L.D. Platt, said Hastert had already said he didn't recall the conversation. The FBI, trying to determine whether any crimes were committed, on Tuesday questioned a former page in Oklahoma City who received salacious messages from Foley. Former page Jordan Edmund and his attorney, Stephen Jones, met with agents for 2-1/2 hours. Retiring congressman Jim Kolbe of Arizona, the only openly gay Republican House member, pushed the time line on Foley's e-mails back to possibly 2001, the earliest year in the timetable. Recounting his actions, Kolbe said a former page contacted his office to report receiving e-mails from Foley that made him uncomfortable. ''I was not shown the content of the messages and was not told they were sexually explicit. It was my recommendation that this complaint be passed along to Representative Foley's office and the clerk who supervised the page program. This was done promptly,'' he said. (Larry Margasak, AP)

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