Staffer backs up alleged 2003 Foley face-off
House Speaker Dennis Hastert's chief of staff confronted then-Rep. Mark Foley about inappropriate social contact with male pages well before...
The Washington Post
WASHINGTON — House Speaker Dennis Hastert's chief of staff confronted then-Rep. Mark Foley about inappropriate social contact with male pages well before the speaker said aides in his office took any action, a current congressional staff member said Friday.
The staff member, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Hastert's chief of staff, Scott Palmer, met with Foley at the Capitol to discuss complaints about the Florida Republican's behavior.
The alleged meeting occurred long before Hastert says aides in his office dispatched Rep. John Shimkus, R-Ill., and the clerk of the House in November 2005 to confront Foley about troubling e-mails he had sent to a Louisiana boy.
The staff member's account supports Foley's former chief of staff, Kirk Fordham, who said this week that he had appealed to Palmer in 2003 or earlier to intervene, after Fordham's efforts to stop Foley's behavior had failed. Fordham said Foley and Palmer, one of the most powerful figures in the House, met within days to discuss the allegations.
Palmer said this week that the meeting Fordham described "did not happen." Timothy Heaphy, Fordham's attorney, said Friday that Fordham is prepared to testify under oath that he had arranged the meeting and that both Foley and Palmer told him the meeting had taken place. Fordham spent more than three hours with the FBI on Thursday, and Heaphy said he contacted the House ethics committee Friday to offer his client's cooperation.
"We are not preparing to cooperate. We are affirmatively seeking to," Heaphy said.
Hastert spokesman Ron Bonjean declined comment on the second House staff member's assertion, saying it is a matter for an ethics committee investigation. "The ... committee has asked that no one discuss this matter because of its ongoing investigation," Bonjean said.
The emergence of a second congressional staffer describing such a meeting came on a day that Hastert, R-Ill., was working to solidify his hold on the speakership. Prominent Republicans, including President Bush, have defended Hastert, saying he should not step down, but the criticism continues to flow.
Calls for resignation
New Jersey's Thomas Kean Jr., who offers the GOP its most promising hope to take a Senate seat from a Democrat in November, called for Hastert's resignation Friday, as did the editorial page of the Los Angeles Times.
Democratic House candidate Patty Wetterling of Minnesota, a child-safety advocate and the first to air a television commercial about the Foley scandal, will deliver the national Democratic response to Bush's weekly radio address today.
Hastert maintains that he knew nothing of Foley's actions until last week, when the story first broke and Foley resigned. The speaker's stance contradicts that of House Majority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, and National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Tom Reynolds, R-N.Y., both of whom said they had informed Hastert last spring.
Palmer has resolutely said he had no earlier meeting with Foley, and other leadership aides have questioned the truthfulness of Fordham. Fordham quit his job as Reynolds' chief of staff last week after acknowledging that he had tried to persuade ABC News not to publish the salacious instant-message exchanges between Foley and two former pages.
Hastert's office contends that the first confrontation with Foley occurred in November 2005, when Shimkus, head of the House Page Board, and then-House Clerk Jeff Trandahl took Foley aside to discuss what they termed "over-friendly" e-mails, which Foley had sent to a Louisiana boy. Fordham's account not only pushed the matter back at least two years, but it also indicated that alarms over Foley's behavior had gone well beyond bland e-mails.
Sources close to Fordham say Trandahl repeatedly urged the longtime aide and close family friend to confront Foley about his inappropriate advances on pages. Each time, Foley pledged to no longer socialize with the teenagers, but Trandahl would alert Fordham again weeks later about more contacts, the sources said. Out of frustration, the sources said, Fordham contacted Palmer, hoping that an intervention from such a powerful figure in the House would persuade Foley to stop.
The second House aide told The Washington Post on Friday that "Scott Palmer had spoken to Foley prior to November 2005." The aide spoke on the condition of anonymity because the matter is the subject of a criminal investigation and the House ethics committee probe.
Two law-enforcement officials said Friday that the FBI had not determined whether a crime had occurred in the Foley case. Justice Department and FBI officials have cautioned that cases involving the enticement of minors are notoriously difficult to prosecute.
Palmer was described as highly emotional Wednesday night while aides sifted through e-mails and files to determine whether he had spoken to Fordham. Several people who spoke with Palmer said the chief of staff was emphatic in denying that he knew anything about Foley's questionable contacts with young male pages.
Palmer is more powerful than all but a few House members. Members know he speaks for Hastert.
The divergent accounts have highlighted the holes in the public's understanding of Foley's undoing. And they are sure to ratchet up the pressure on Trandahl to come forward with his knowledge of events. As House clerk between January 1999 and November 2005, Trandahl had direct control over the page program.
Pages apparently saw Trandahl as a strict disciplinarian. In one instant-message exchange obtained by The Post, a former page, on his way to his first annual reunion in Washington, told Foley in January 2003 that "everyone is going to be pretty wasted a lot of the time in dc."
He then added, "well we dont have the [expletive] clerk to fire us anymore. ... we didnt like trandahl that much. ... he isnt a nice guy ... and he gets really scarey when he is mad."
Trandahl's departure came within days of confronting Foley with e-mails that the congressman had sent a former page.
House aides say Trandahl's exit was oddly quiet. The departure of a staff member of long standing, especially one as important as the House clerk, usually is marked with considerable fanfare, said Scott Lilly, a former Democratic staff director of the House Appropriations Committee. Debate is suspended in midafternoon to accommodate a stream of testimonials from lawmakers.
Trandahl's departure was marked by a one-minute salute from Shimkus and a brief insert into the Congressional Record.
Now the executive director of the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Trandahl has not returned repeated phone calls and e-mails.
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