Video: Hastert under fire

updated 10/4/2006 3:58:43 PM ET 2006-10-04T19:58:43

Rep. Rodney Alexander, R-La., the congressman who sponsored the page at the heart of the recent Capitol Hill sex scandal furor and initially said Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., "knew about the e-mails that we knew about," including one in which Foley asked the page to send his picture, has now backed off that comment, saying he discussed the e-mails with Hastert's aides, not the speaker himself.

"I guess that's a poor choice of words that I made there," Alexander told AP.

The speaker has said he was not aware of the e-mails when they were discussed with his staff. The No. 2 House Republican, Rep. John Boehner of Ohio, and House GOP campaign chairman Rep. Tom Reynolds of New York, said they had spoken with Hastert about a complaint concerning a former page from Louisiana last spring, after Alexander told them about it.

Hastert position unchanged
Alexander's initial comments did not change Hastert's position. "The speaker's staff knew about this; the speaker didn't," said his spokesman, Ron Bonjean.

Alexander had asserted on Fox News that Hastert's knowledge was limited to e-mails that made the page uncomfortable -- not the salacious instant messages Foley is reported to have made to pages. "Speaker Hastert is a good man," he said. "He is a good leader. And I think he would personally break the neck of anybody he thought was trying to sexually abuse a young man or woman."

The chairmen of two coalitions of social and fiscal conservatives in Congress have rallied behind Hastert even as some other conservatives demanded he step down. "Speaker Hastert is a man of integrity," Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., and Rep. Joe Pitts, R-Pa., said in a joint statement. "Speaker Dennis Hastert should not resign."

Capital case
On the federal investigation into Foley's communications with teenagers in the congressional page program, acting U.S. Attorney Jeff Taylor for the District of Columbia told Hill officials to "preserve all records" related to the matter, according to a Justice Department official who spoke on condition of anonymity.

It was not immediately clear when Taylor's letter to Hill officials was sent or to whom.

Foley, of Florida, resigned his House seat after the e-mails and reports of the instant messages were exposed, and checked into an alcohol rehabilitation center. The ensuing uproar has engulfed Republicans who were already at risk at losing control of Congress in elections five weeks away.

Should he stay or should he go?
Conservatives debated whether Hastert should resign over his handling of the matter. Video: Scarborough discusses Foley scandal

Activist Richard A. Viguerie was among those who 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.

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Asked by talk-show host Rush Limbaugh on Tuesday whether he would quit, Hastert said, "I'm not going to do that."

Hastert says he first heard details of the Foley matter Friday after the story came out. Yet he has not specifically disputed Reynolds's comment that he raised the subject with the speaker much earlier.

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.

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