Foley aide: I told GOP in '03

A longtime chief of staff says he warned Republican leaders two years before they say they were told.

Published October 5, 2006

WASHINGTON - Former Rep. Mark Foley's longtime chief of staff said Wednesday that he warned House Republican leaders about his boss' "inappropriate behavior" with congressional pages in 2003.

That's more than two years before U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert and other top lawmakers say they knew about Foley's contacts with teenage boys.

Kirk Fordham's revelation renews questions about a possible Republican coverup and what the leaders knew about Foley, how long they knew it and what - if anything - they did about it.

"I had more than one conversation with senior staff at the highest levels of the House of Representatives asking them to intervene when I was informed of Mr. Foley's inappropriate behavior," Fordham said in a statement.

Hastert has been under fire in recent days, with some conservatives calling for his resignation and top-ranking House members in both parties criticizing him for his handling of the matter.

Fordham said Hastert's chief of staff, Scott Palmer, was told in 2003 that Foley was too friendly with pages and Palmer later spoke to Foley about his behavior, according to ABC News.

"Our chief of staff never had a conversation with congressman Foley," Hastert spokesman Ron Bonjean told the St. Petersburg Times in an e-mail. Palmer also denied speaking to Foley. "What Kirk Fordham said did not happen," he said in a statement.

Hastert and other House leaders say they have known since November 2005 about one "over-friendly" e-mail exchange Foley had with a 16-year-old page from Lousiana, but not the sexually explicit instant messages disclosed Friday.

Fordham, 39, resigned Wednesday as chief of staff to Rep. Tom Reynolds, head of a group that helps Republicans get elected to the House and one of the handful of House leaders who acknowledged knowing about Foley's e-mail to the Louisiana boy.

"Today's revelation begs the questions: Why did Speaker Hastert, congressman Reynolds and other Republican leaders continue to support Mark Foley after they knew about his horrific behavior?" asked House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.

The growing scandal could help the Democrats take back control of the House after November's elections, or even topple the speaker and his leadership team before then.

Hastert told a leading conservative Wednesday that he would resign as leader if it would help the Republican Party in the election, according to Congressional Quarterly, an affiliate of the St. Petersburg Times. But conservative activist Paul Weyrich, who was one of the first to call publicly for Hastert's resignation, said the speaker had rejected demands for his resignation because he believes it would prompt "a feeding frenzy."

Weyrich said his emotional telephone conversation with Hastert has led him to rethink whether Hastert should resign.

On Wednesday, the third-ranking House Republican, Rep. Roy Blunt of Missouri, made stern remarks about Hastert, saying he would have handled the situation differently.

"You have to be curious," Blunt said. "You have to ask all the questions you can think of."

Foley, 52, a Republican from the West Palm Beach area, resigned Friday after the public disclosure of sexually explicit e-mails and instant messages between him and former congressional pages that went back at least three years.

He entered an in-patient rehabilitation facility for alcohol abuse and behavior problems at an undisclosed location, where he expects to stay at least 30 days.

His attorney, David Roth, said this week that Foley was abused by a clergyman as a teenager but accepts responsibility for sending sexually explicit correspondence to boys. He also acknowledged publicly for the first time what many in Washington already knew: Foley is gay.

'Preserve all records'

The FBI and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement are investigating. Agents began interviewing pages and sent a letter to the House ordering officials to "preserve all records" related to Foley's electronic correspondence with teenagers. The letter indicates that law enforcement officials are preparing, if necessary, to seek grand jury subpoenas for records in Foley's Capitol Hill office.

The House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, also known as the ethics committee, will hold an emergency meeting today to begin its own inquiry. It could investigate the conduct of any current members who knew of Foley's e-mails or other questionable behavior.

"This matter has been referred to the Standards Committee and we fully expect that the bipartisan panel will do what it needs to do to investigate this matter and protect the integrity of the House," Bonjean said in an e-mail.

Fordham worked for Foley for a decade before leaving in January 2004 to join Mel Martinez's U.S. Senate campaign. After working briefly as a lobbyist he returned to the Capitol to work for Reynolds, his home-state congressman.

Reynolds, chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, is locked in a tight re-election battle in suburban Buffalo. First lady Laura Bush appeared with him Wednesday in his district.

Fordham said in a statement that he resigned because Democrats were making him a political issue in Reynolds' race, and not because he did anything to help Reynolds cover up Foley's behavior.

Fordham counseled Foley last Thursday after the initial public disclosure of an e-mail exchange with one page and was with Foley and his sister when they learned that ABC News had sexually explicit instant messages with other pages.

Fordham reportedly offered ABC News an exclusive on Foley's resignation if the network would not publish the explicit instant messages. ABC declined.

"When I sought to help congressman Foley and his family when his shocking secrets were being revealed, I did so as a friend of my former boss, not as congressman Reynolds' chief of staff," he wrote. "I reached out to the Foley family, as any good friend would, because I was worried about their emotional wellbeing."

Fordham said he never spoke to Reynolds about Foley's contacts with pages before the details of an e-mail exchange became public and Reynolds did not ask him about his ex-boss in the spring when Reynolds first learned about it.

Fordham said when he learned the graphic sexual content of some of the instant messages, he confronted Foley.

"I said: 'Are these authentic?' and he said 'probably,' and he confirmed that they were likely his instant messages," Fordham said.

Fordham said the immediate reaction of his current boss, Reynolds, was to get Foley to leave Congress.

"He told me Foley needed to resign," said Fordham, adding that the National Republican Congressional Committee wrote the first draft of Foley's resignation letter before it was rewritten on Foley's official letterhead.

Republican members of Congress campaigning for re-election across the nation are finding that the Foley scandal dominates the discussion.

"We're going to look forward to getting the whole story," U.S. Rep. Katherine Harris said in Tampa. "I'm very anxious to know who knew about this. ... For anyone who knew about them in advance, they should be held to very strong account, whether it's Republicans, Democrats or the media."

Sen. John McCain of Arizona called for a group of former senators and others to investigate how the House handled the situation.

Some Republicans supported Hastert. The chairmen of two coalitions of social and fiscal conservatives in Congress said he should not 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.

Times staff writers Bill Adair, Carrie Weimar and Wes Allison and researcher Angie Drobnic Holan contributed to this report, which also used information from the Associated Press. Times staff writer Anita Kumar can be reached at akumar@sptimes.com or (202) 463-0576.


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