The House ethics
committee questioned the top aide to House speaker
Dennis Hastert in an appearance Monday that could clarify
whether early warnings about ex-congressman Mark Foley
were ignored. Scott Palmer, Hastert's chief of staff,
has disputed statements that he was told by Foley's
top aide in 2002 or 2003 about the Florida Republican's
inappropriate computer-message come-ons to male pages.
Hastert has released an internal report that
said his aides first learned about Foley's
inappropriate conduct in the fall of 2005. But that report
did not mention any role that Palmer played at the time.
Palmer has not spoken publicly, except to say
that the story of the 2002-2003 notification to
him by former Foley chief of staff Kirk Fordham did
not happen. Before Palmer testified, Sally Vastola, the top
political aide to Republican congressman Tom
Reynolds of New York, appeared before the committee as
it began a third week of closed-door testimony.
Reynolds learned of Foley's inappropriate
e-mails to a Louisiana teenager last spring from the
boy's congressional sponsor, and Reynolds says that he
told Hastert about it at the time. Vastola's testimony
seemed sure to touch on how Reynolds reacted when
learning of problems with Foley's behavior toward
pages and what other individuals Reynolds may have shared
the information with.
Reynolds is slated to appear Tuesday before the
panel, which is looking into whether lawmakers and
staff aides should have done more to prevent Foley
from having inappropriate interactions with pages. The known
problems date back as far as 2001 or 2002, when Foley sent
inappropriate e-mails to a page sponsored by
Republican congressman Jim Kolbe of Arizona.
Neither that incident nor the 2005 e-mails to
the Louisiana boy were forwarded to the ethics
committee or the full membership of the bipartisan
page board. Reynolds learned of the Foley matter last spring
from Republican congressman Rodney Alexander of
Louisiana in the wake of media inquiries.
Reynolds also discussed it with Majority Leader
John Boehner. Boehner told a Cincinnati talk show that
he discussed the problem with Hastert and had been
assured that it ''had been taken care of.''
The panel also is expected to hear testimony
this week from top aides to Hastert, including chief
of staff Ted Van Der Meid, who had frequent
interactions with former clerk of the House Jeff Trandahl
about House operations, including problems in the page
program. Hastert's top political aide, Mike Stokke, is
also likely to testify this week, and the speaker
himself could also testify.
Testimony from Hastert's aides--so far
virtually silent about long-known problems about Foley
and pages--would go a long way toward wrapping up the
interviews required for the panel to make its findings,
though it's unclear whether the panel will have enough
time to issue a report before Election Day.
Kirk Fordham, Foley's former chief of staff, has
testified that he also told top aides to Hastert about
the Florida congressman's inappropriate behavior with
pages years ago. (Andrew Taylor, AP)