Saturday, October 07, 2006

Hastert's Chief of Staff In Spotlight

People are saying that any paperwork indicating when the House leadership learned about the activities of Mark Foley will be the determining factor of this scandal.

Instead of contemporaneous documentation, it appears that the critical paperwork may turn out to be the FBI interviews that will be taking place with the people knowledgeable about how the facts were learned and handled once they became known.

House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert's chief of staff confronted then-Rep. Mark Foley about his inappropriate social contact with male pages well before the speaker said aides in his office took any action, a current congressional staff member with personal knowledge of Foley and his behavior with pages said yesterday.

The staff member said Hastert's chief of staff, Scott Palmer, met with the Florida Republican at the Capitol to discuss complaints about Foley's behavior toward pages. The alleged meeting occurred long before Hastert says aides in his office dispatched Rep. John M. Shimkus (R-Ill.) and the clerk of the House in November 2005 to confront Foley about troubling e-mails he had sent to a Louisiana boy.

The staff member's account buttresses the position of Foley's onetime chief of staff, Kirk Fordham, who said earlier this week that he had appealed to Palmer in 2003 or earlier to intervene, after Fordham's own efforts to stop Foley's behavior had failed. Fordham said Foley and Palmer, one of the most powerful figures in the House of Representatives, met within days to discuss the allegations.

Palmer said this week that the meeting Fordham described "did not happen." Timothy J. Heaphy, Fordham's attorney, said yesterday that Fordham is prepared to testify under oath that he had arranged the meeting and that both Foley and Palmer told him the meeting had taken place. Fordham spent more than three hours with the FBI on Thursday, and Heaphy said that on Friday he contacted the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct to offer his client's cooperation. ...

On Wednesday night, Palmer was described as highly emotional while aides sifted through e-mails and files to determine whether he had ever spoken to Fordham. Several people who spoke with Palmer said the chief of staff was emphatic in denying that he knew anything about Foley's questionable contacts with young male pages.

Palmer, who shares a townhouse with Hastert when they are in town, is more powerful than all but a few House members. Members know that he speaks for Hastert.

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