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For outgoing Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) and his inner circle, as well as retiring Rep. Jim Kolbe (R-Ariz.), Friday’s report by the House ethics committee on its investigation of former Rep. Mark Foley (R-Fla.) was a stinging insult coming just weeks after a crippling injury.
The Foley sex scandal, which first broke in late September, helped seal the fate of the House Republican majority and put the final stake in Hastert’s eight-year reign as Speaker. The weeks-long media furor surrounding the release of sexually graphic electronic messages between Foley and former House pages drowned out Republican attempts to counter the Democratic message on Iraq, and further cemented the public’s impression that GOP leaders were corrupt and out of touch with the needs of average Americans.
While Democratic leaders say they have no interest in revisiting the issue during the next Congress, Friday’s report by the four-member investigative subcommittee, led by Reps. Doc Hastings (R-Wash.) and Howard Berman (D-Calif.), chairman and ranking member of the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, paints a picture of a Speaker and GOP hierarchy that alternately ignored, minimized, and then tried to cover up their knowledge of Foley’s behavior.
Reacting to Friday’s report, Hastert focused on the fact that the panel did not find any formal ethics violations had been committed.
“I am glad the committee made clear that there was no violation of any House rules by any Member or staff,” Hastert said in a statement.
While not saying outright that Hastert or his chief of staff, Scott Palmer, lied to the panel about their knowledge of Foley’s inappropriate e-mail contacts with current or former House pages, the ethics committee clearly did not find their testimony on the matter credible.
Majority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Rep. Tom Reynolds (R-N.Y.) told the panel that they had personally informed Hastert of the existence of possibly inappropriate, although non-graphic, e-mails between Foley and a former page.
Hastert disputed their testimony, said he had no notes or recollection of any such conversations, but in the end, the panel sided with Boehner and Reynolds more than Hastert.
The ethics committee also believed Foley’s former chief of staff, Kirk Fordham, over Palmer. Fordham told investigators that he met personally with Palmer in late 2002 or early 2003 in a bid to get Palmer’s help reining in Foley’s inappropriate behavior, and that Palmer subsequently met with Foley. Palmer flatly denied the allegations, but in the end, the committee found “the weight of evidence” supported Fordham’s version of events over the one offered by Palmer. Fordham’s story was also backed up by Jeff Trandahl, the former Clerk of the House and a key figure in the Foley scandal.
Trandahl also told members of the investigative subcommittee that he was concerned about Hastert counsel Ted Van Der Meid’s own “over-involvement with pages assigned to the Speaker’s office.” Van Der Meid was personally criticized in Friday’s report for his “inexplicable lack of interest in the e-mails and the resolution of the matter with Rep. Foley,” a strong rebuke for the longtime House aide and former chief counsel of the House ethics panel.