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Hastert sought to separate himself from Foley, telling reporters Monday that he recalls little communication between himself and Foley, who was first elected in 1994.
“I’ve never had a [personal] conversation with him,” Hastert said, “Other than his vote on a tariff matter at one time or another, I think.”
Hastert returned to Capitol Hill on Monday to reiterate his commitment to a thorough investigation into Foley’s activities and a review of the House page program.
The normally media-averse Speaker spent much of Monday interacting with the press to continue pushing his position that no member of Republican leadership was aware of sexually explicit online communications Foley had with an unknown number of former House pages.
“The instant messages, reportedly between Congressman Foley and a former page sent in 2003, are vile and repulsive to me, and to my colleagues,” Hastert said, “No one in the Republican leadership, nor Congressman Shimkus, saw those messages until last Friday when ABC News released them to the public.”
Hastert also has committed the House to full cooperation with any and all investigations.
The events of the past week have capped what has been a rocky 109th Congress for Hastert.
While he appears to maintain broad support in the Conference, he and his senior aides increasingly have become the target of behind-the-scenes criticism from rank-and-file Members and aides.
At the kickoff of the 109th Congress, Hastert’s staff counsel Ted Van Der Meid was the chief architect of a series of partisan rules changes imposed on the House ethics committee following the admonishments of then-Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas).
The new rules deadlocked the panel for several months prompting fierce partisan gridlock on the panel until Hastert relented and the House reverted to the old rules.
Hastert was also criticized by DeLay’s detractors for not having the foresight to urge DeLay to remove himself from leadership as his ethical troubles worsened and overwhelmed the House majority late last year.
When DeLay stepped down as Majority Leader on Sept. 28, 2005, Hastert was also caught off-guard when his intention to install House Rules Chairman David Dreier (R-Calif.) as temporary Majority Leader was thwarted by the Conference and resulted in a clumsy scenario under which Majority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) was given the title and Dreier was given a greater role in leadership decisions.
Hastert also was forceful in January 2006 in committing the House to passing a comprehensive lobbying and ethics reform bill in the wake of DeLay’s retirement announcement and the expanding scandal surrounding disgraced former lobbyist Jack Abramoff.
The bill never became law despite repeated commitments from leaders, and the House succeeded only in passing smaller rules changes to ban former Members who are lobbyists from the House floor, and to require greater disclosure of earmarks in conference reports.
Hastert also came under fire in May when he and other Congressional leaders took on the Justice Department for what they then described as an unconstitutional raid of Rep. William Jefferson’s (D-La.) Congressional office. Jefferson is the target of a federal criminal probe.