House Leadership Challenged by Foley Case Claims

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The scandal involving ex-congressman Mark Foley (R-FL) continues to grow as House leaders' explanations of their handling of the case are repeatedly challenged.

LYNN NEARY, host:

The North Korea confrontation is just one of the stories unfolding during this election season. Another is the scandal involving ex-Congressman Mark Foley. With Election Day less than a month away, the dimensions of the scandal still aren't clear. And the explanations that House leaders have given, including their accounts of when they found out about Foley's activities, are looking increasingly shaky.

NPR's Peter Overby reports.

PETER OVERBY: Foley, a Florida Republican, resigned abruptly 12 days ago. He admitted exchanging sexually explicit instant messages with a former House page. Computer conversations and letters with other young men from the page program have emerged since then.

Initially, Speaker Dennis Hastert said the whole thing caught him by surprise. Then, Louisiana Congressman Rodney Alexander said he had contacted Hastert's staff on behalf of another former page about one year ago. Next came Kirk Fordham, a former Foley chief of staff, to say he had gone to a top Hastert aide at least three years ago to discuss Foley's contact with a different former page.

And yesterday, Arizona Republican Jim Kolbe issued a statement saying that he had raised a warning flag about Foley and the pages sometime between 2000 and 2002. Kolbe said a former page had contacted his office about e-mails from Foley that made the former page feel uncomfortable. Kolbe said his office contacted Foley's office and the office of Clerk of the House Jeff Trandahl, whose job included oversight of the pages.

Speaker Hastert held a press conference yesterday. He said that as far as he knew, there had been no cover-up by his staff.

Representative DENNIS HASTERT (Republican, Illinois; Speaker of the House): But if there is a problem, if there was a cover-up, then we should find that out through the investigation process. They'll be under oath, and if they did cover something up, then they should not continue to have their jobs.

OVERBY: Fordham is due to testify to members of the House Ethics Committee tomorrow afternoon. Trandahl's lawyer issued a statement yesterday that he will cooperate with the Ethics Committee, as well as a separate criminal investigation now being conducted by the Justice Department.

In that probe, FBI agents questioned former page Jordan Edmund yesterday in Oklahoma City. His lawyer, Stephen Jones, spoke afterwards. This tape comes from CNN.

(Soundbite of CNN broadcast)

Mr. STEPHEN JONES (Attorney for Jordan Edmund): Jordan answered all of their questions, relying upon his memory as it exists.

OVERBY: The investigations have begun and will proceed apace. But neither the Ethics Committee nor the Justice Department is expected to say anything definitive before the election, leaving it to voters to sort things out for themselves. Polls released this week show a majority of Americans think House Republican leaders handling the Foley matter had been more concerned about its potential political damage than about protecting the pages.

Peter Overby, NPR News, the Capitol.

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