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House Speaker Dennis Hastert said today that he takes responsibility for the scandal involving former Republican Congressman Mark Foley and teenage male pages. But he says that he has no intention of giving up his leadership post. Hastert spoke from outside his district office in Illinois. Minutes before, leaders at the House Ethics Committee in Washington said that they are prepared to subpoena members of Congress and staffers.
NPR's Brain Naylor reports.
BRIAN NAYLOR: Hastert has been under fire from critics, many of them fellow Republicans, who say he and his office mishandled the Foley scandal. As he stood before microphones outside his Batavia, Illinois, office, Hastert's first words were apologetic.
DENNIS HASTERT: I'm sorry. You know, when you talk about the page issue and what's happened in the Congress. I'm deeply sorry this has happened. The bottom line is that we're taking responsibility, because ultimately, as someone has said in Washington before - the buck stops here.
NAYLOR: Hastert has been criticized for not acting more decisively when the first reports came to his office that Foley had sent e-mails that troubled a former page from Louisiana and his parents in August 2005. But Hastert reiterated what he said in numerous interviews that he has no intention of stepping down.
HASTERT: I'm going to run and presumably win in this election. And when we do, I expect to run for leader, for speaker. And, you know, I think everybody else will, too. But our members ultimately make that decision.
NAYLOR: Hastert backed away somewhat from charges he's made that Democrats were behind the leaking of explicit instant messages Foley sent to other former pages. And he denied the charge made yesterday by Foley's former chief of staff, who said he had informed Hastert's office several years ago about Foley's improper conduct and that nothing had been done.
Hastert said he wanted to appoint what he termed a high caliber person to examine the page program. Democratic sources say Hastert told minority leader Nancy Pelosi he intended to appoint former FBI director Louis Freeh to the post, but Pelosi objected.
Meanwhile, the House Ethics Committee met on the matter for some fours hours today behind closed doors. Afterwards, the chairman, Washington Republican Doc Hastings, said the committee has prepared some four dozen subpoenas, which its ready to serve on members of Congress and their staffs, if need be, in its investigation.
DOC HASTINGS: Simply put, the American people and especially the parents of all current and former pages are entitled to know how this situation was handled. And we are determined to answer their questions. Congressman Berman and I will do so as quickly as possible. And we pledge to you that our investigation will go wherever the evidence leads us.
NAYLOR: California Democrat Howard Berman, the senior Democrat on the bipartisan panel, says he expects the investigation will take weeks, not months, and that members will ignore their political differences.
HOWARD BERMAN: We all have strong partisan feelings. We have passionate concerns about issues. We have ideological and philosophical differences. But on this committee and for purposes of this investigation, we are going to put those partisan considerations totally aside.
NAYLOR: But just how difficult that will be was readily apparent in today's news conference. One of the panel's Republican members is Judy Biggert, who represents an Illinois district adjoining Hastert's and has been a long time ally of the speaker's. And Hastings was asked if he supports Hastert remaining a speaker.
HASTINGS: I think the speaker has done an excellent job.
NAYLOR: Hastings later clarified that his comment about Hastert was not related to the investigation before the panel.
Brain Naylor, NPR News, the capital.
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