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Ex-House clerk testifies in Foley probe

/ Source: The Associated Press

A man who may have crucial information in the Ex-Rep. Mark Foley investigation has now finished his closed-door testimony before the House Ethics Committee and left Capitol Hill without making any public statements.

Jeff Trandahl is a former House Clerk who last fall confronted Foley over e-mails he'd sent to a former page. The inappropriate messages, dating back as early as 2001, caused the boy's parents to complain.

Foley, a Republican from Florida, quit his House seat three weeks ago, once the e-mails came to light.

Trandahl had nothing to say to reporters either as he walked past and into the offices of the House ethics committee or as he left the building.

Trandahl's lawyer, Cono Namorato, released a written statement that saying, "Jeff Trandahl has cooperated fully with the investigation being conducted by the FBI and the investigative group of the committee on standards. He answered every question asked of him, and stands ready to render additional assistance if needed. On my advice, Jeff will continue his position of not publicly airing his recollections during the pendency of these investigations."

Trandahl was expected to be asked how House Speaker Dennis Hastert dealt with the Foley problem. Questions linger about when the speaker knew about Foley's behavior, and what he did about it.

Trandahl has been silent in the investigation of ex-Rep. Mark Foley’s approaches to male pages.  The former congressional officer testimony could support — or seriously damage — House Speaker Dennis Hastert.

In an internal report released by Hastert, his aides contend that they first learned about Foley’s conduct in the fall of 2005, when they became aware of overly friendly e-mails to a former Louisiana page. However, Foley’s former top aide said he told Hastert’s chief of staff about the Florida Republican’s conduct in 2002 or 2003.

Trandahl, who usually greeted acquaintances in the Capitol with a smile and a friendly conversation, has made no public statements since the scandal broke and, for a time, wouldn’t even reveal the name of his lawyer, Cono Namorato.

Damaging testimony?
With polls showing the Foley scandal could hurt Republicans in the Nov. 7 midterm elections, Trandahl’s testimony could be damaging if he contradicts Hastert’s account and says Republican leaders lacked the urgency required to protect the teenage pages. Hastert has fended off calls for his resignation and said he believes he and his staff acted properly.

Trandahl was the official who likely would have known about any problems involving the page program, including improper conduct by pages or improper approaches from lawmakers or House employees. He supervised the program and was on its controlling group, the House Page Board, which consists of three lawmakers, the House clerk and the sergeant at arms.

Trandahl, who works for the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, was known to be protective of pages. They are high school students who run errands and learn how Congress works. They live in a dormitory and attend a congressional school.

Foley resigned his seat Sept. 29 after he was confronted with sexually explicit instant messages he sent former male pages, messages far more damaging than those sent the Louisiana page. In that case, Foley asked what the 16-year-old wanted for his birthday and requested a picture.

Foley also reportedly tried to enter the pages’ dormitory near the Capitol while intoxicated.

At least one confrontation
Trandahl is known to have confronted Foley at least once. The chairman of the Page Board, Rep. John Shimkus, R-Ill., has publicly said he and Trandahl spoke with Foley in the fall of 2005 after learning — from Hastert’s aides — about the e-mails to the former Louisiana page. The boy’s parents wanted the contact ended and Foley promised to comply, Shimkus said.

Hastert has said he didn’t learn about Foley in 2005 and didn’t know about the problems until the scandal broke late last month. However, two other Republican leaders said that they told Hastert, R-Ill., months earlier.

One of the officials, Majority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, was set to testify Thursday. He told a Cincinnati radio station earlier this month that when he approached Hastert about Foley last spring, the speaker told him “it had been taken care of.”

Rep. Tom Reynolds of New York, the House GOP campaign chairman, has not yet testified.

The speaker’s information conflicts with statements by Kirk Fordham, Foley’s former chief of staff, who said he told Hastert chief of staff Scott Palmer about Foley in 2002 or 2003. Palmer disputed Fordham’s version of events.

Hastert has told reporters if he learns that anyone on his staff covered up information, they will be fired.

Trandahl also knew about a Foley incident with a page as early as 2001, according to Rep. Jim Kolbe, R-Ariz. Kolbe said a former page he had sponsored contacted his office to complain of e-mails from Foley and that he “passed along” the complaint to the offices of both Foley and Trandahl.

Hastert and his aides, including Palmer, have not yet given their accounts to the ethics committee.