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Sunday, October 01, 2006

Hastert, Top Aides Knew of Foley Allegations - By John Bresnahan

Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) and at least three of his aides were told of allegations that then-Rep. Mark Foley (R-Fla.) had improper e-mail contacts with a former House page months before the incident became public and Foley resigned from Congress, according to a senior House Republican and a report released by Hastert’s office on Saturday.

This contradicts earlier claims from Hastert’s office that the Speaker did not know of Foley’s behavior until it was revealed this week by ABC News.

Hastert and other GOP leaders also continue to insist that they were unaware of much more sexually graphic electronic messages from Foley to unidentified young men. The release of these explicit messages, which occurred after the first ABC story broke, spurred Foley to immediately resign from the House.

Democrats have pushed for an ethics committee investigation, and some Congressional insiders suggest a criminal probe of Foley will begin soon, if it has not already.

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As of Saturday evening, nearly a dozen House GOP lawmakers and staffers have acknowledged that they knew of the initial batch of non-sexually explicit messages from Foley to a 16-year-old former House page, some of them for a year or more. These include Hastert; Majority Leader John Boehner (Ohio); National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Tom Reynolds (N.Y.); Reps. Rodney Alexander (La.) and John Shimkus (Ill.); Mike Stokke, the Speaker’s deputy chief of staff; Ted Van Der Meid, Hastert’s counsel; Paula Nowakowski, Boehner’s chief of staff; Jeff Trandahl, the former Clerk of the House; and another Hastert aide and Alexander’s chief of staff, according to public statements and GOP insiders.

Most troubling for Hastert was a statement released by Reynolds on Saturday afternoon in which the NRCC chairman said he had informed Hastert personally of the Foley situation after he was told of it by Alexander. Alexander, who represents the teen’s district, was acting at the behest of the boy’s parents, who wanted Foley to stop contacting their son.

"Rodney Alexander brought to my attention the existence of e-mails between Mark Foley and a former page of Mr. Alexander's,” Reynolds said in his statement. “Despite the fact that I had not seen the e-mails in question, and Mr. Alexander told me that the parents didn't want the matter pursued, I told the Speaker of the conversation Mr. Alexander had with me.”

GOP sources said Reynolds remembers being told of the Foley e-mails by Alexander “sometime in the spring.” One source said Boehner told Alexander to go to Reynolds with his concerns about Foley’s behavior.

Boehner told The Washington Post on Friday that Alexander informed him of the Foley e-mails early this year, after Alexander received complaints from the former page’s parents about contacts between Foley and their son. Boehner was quoted in the Post as saying he then informed Hastert, who assured him, “we’re taking care of it.” Boehner now denies telling the Post of such a conversation between Hastert and himself, and his aides said on Saturday that he “cannot recall” informing anyone other than Nowakowski, his top aide, of the matter.

Following the release of Reynolds’ statement, Hastert’s office issued its own “preliminary report” on how the Speaker and his staff handled the Foley scandal.

Hastert declined to contest publicly what Reynolds had said earlier, but his office did say that the Speaker could not “explicitly recall” any such conversation between the two men.

“Congressman Tom Reynolds in a statement issued today indicates that many months later, in the spring of 2006, he was approached by Congressman Alexander who mentioned the Foley issue from the previous fall,” Hastert’s office said in its statement.

“During a meeting with the Speaker, [Reynolds] says he noted the issue which had been raised by Alexander and told the Speaker that an investigation was conducted by the Clerk of the House and Shimkus. While the Speaker does not explicitly recall this conversation, he has no reason to dispute Congressman Reynold’s recollection that he reported to him on the problem and its resolution.”

Shimkus, head of the House Page Board, and Trandahl had confronted Foley in late 2005 about electronic messages that he had sent to the former page. The two men were told by Foley that he would not contact that teen or any other pages, according to a statement released by Shimkus.

Alexander’s discussion with Boehner came several months after Alexander’s chief of staff contacted Hastert’s office to discuss Foley’s behavior, according to Saturday’s statement from the Speaker’s office. That discussion took place in the “fall of 2005,” said the Hastert statement, although no exact date was provided.

Alexander’s aide was directed to Stokke, Hastert’s top political adviser, who then passed him on to Van Der Meid, the Speaker’s in-house counsel and a former chief counsel on the ethics committee. Van Der Meid instructed the aide to contact Trandahl, then the Clerk of the House.

Van Der Meid was later told of the conversation between Foley, Shimkus, and Trandahl, but Van Der Meid, Stokke and Tim Kennedy, another Hastert aide who was aware of the situation, did not tell anyone else of the matter, according to Hastert’s office.

“Mindful of the sensitivity to the parent's wishes to protect their child's privacy and believing that they had promptly reported what they knew to the proper authorities Kennedy, Van Der Meid and Stokke did not discuss the matter with others in the Speaker's Office,” the statement from Hastert’s office said.
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SOURCE:
Hastert, Top Aides Knew of Foley Allegations

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