CAPITOL HILL — The top Republican in the U.S. House of Representatives went before investigators Tuesday in the Capitol Hill sex scandal that has rocked his party as it tries to keep control of Congress in the Nov. 7 elections. He emerged telling reporters, "I answered all the questions they asked to the best of my ability."
House Speaker Dennis Hastert of Illinois went behind closed doors with the bipartisan congressional ethics panel for two hour and forty minutes of questioning about what he knew and what he did about the troublesome behavior by disgraced Rep. Mark Foley toward teenage interns.
The Speaker said he also told the panel it needed to move quickly to get to the bottom of the issue, including who know about the Foley sexually explicit messages and when they knew about it.
"I encouraged them to continue to move forward to get to the bottom of this, including finding out who was aware and when they were aware of the sexually explicit instant messages that were created three years ago."
Foley, a Florida Republican, abruptly resigned last month following disclosure he sent lurid electronic messages to teenage boys.
Rep. Tom Reynolds, R-N.Y., appeared before the House ethics committee earlier Tuesday.
Reynolds, the House Republican campaign chairman, and Hastert, the speaker of the House, are likely to be at odds as they testify about the handling of ex-Rep. Mark Foley's come-ons to male pages.
Reynolds has said he warned Hastert about Foley last spring. Hastert has said he doesn't remember that conversation.
Who knew what, when
A four-member ethics investigating panel is keeping key witnesses behind closed doors for hours as it tries to unravel conflicts over when and what Hastert and his staff learned about Foley's conduct and what they did about it.
Hastert's chief of staff, Scott Palmer, spent more than six hours before the committee Monday. Palmer has disputed one account that he was warned about Foley in 2002 or 2003.
Reynolds, head of the National Republican Congressional Committee, has said he spoke with Hastert last spring after learning of Foley's overly friendly e-mails to a former Louisiana page, who was 16 at the time. Those e-mails were not sexually explicit.
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The speaker has said he can't recall the Reynolds warning, and has contended he doesn't remember having a separate conversation about Foley earlier this year with Majority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio. Boehner not only recalls speaking with Hastert, but said the speaker told him the page's complaint "had been taken care of."
Boehner said after his recent testimony in the case that he didn't change the account of his actions.
Campaigning for a Republican candidate in Tennessee, Hastert said Monday he plans to testify before the committee this week.
"What Mark Foley did was wrong. It was ethically wrong. It's a shame. It's actually disgusting," Hastert told reporters after a campaign rally in Johnson City, Tenn.
In Washington, Palmer's lawyer, Scott Fredericksen, said his client hasn't changed his version of events. Former Foley chief of staff Kirk Fordham has said he warned the Hastert aide about Foley at least three years ago.
"What Kirk Fordham said did not happen," Palmer said weeks ago in his lone public statement on the matter.
Fredericksen said the testimony was "consistent with the position he's taken all along."
Palmer spent more time in the committee offices than any other witness in three weeks of testimony, entering at 1:57 p.m. and leaving at 8:18 p.m.
Foley, R-Fla., resigned his seat Sept. 29 after he was confronted with sexually explicit instant messages he sent to former pages other than the Louisiana youngster.
House Speaker under fire
Hastert has a lot riding on the outcome of the ethics investigation. He has fended off calls for his resignation with statements that his staff members acted properly after they learned a year ago about Foley's friendly messages to the Louisiana page.
Hastert said his staff notified the chief clerk, who confronted Foley along with Rep. John Shimkus, R-Ill., the chairman of the House board overseeing the page program. Foley was told to stop contacting the youngster.
Hastert said he didn't learn about Foley until late this September, when the scandal became public and Foley left Congress.
The speaker has vowed to fire any of his aides if they covered up knowledge of Foley's behavior.
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