Hastert’s Future Suddenly Looks In Grave Doubt
This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.
The political future of the speaker of the House, Dennis Hastert, is in grave doubt after a senior congressional aide claimed that he warned the speaker’s office three years ago that Rep. Mark Foley, a Republican of Florida, had acted inappropriately toward high school students who served as pages on Capitol Hill.
Kirk Fordham, who served for a decade as Mr. Foley’s top aide, made the assertion yesterday, hours after resigning as chief of staff to a congressman from the Buffalo suburbs, Thomas Reynolds, who also serves as head of the fund-raising committee for House Republicans.
Mr. Fordham’s claim is in conflict with Mr. Hastert’s statement that his staff had no inkling of any problem with Mr. Foley and pages before the fall of 2005. Mr. Foley resigned Friday after ABC News published sexually explicit Internet messages he exchanged with teenagers who had participated in the page program.
Mr. Fordham said he chose to disclose the earlier warnings about Mr. Foley’s behavior after ABC reported that unnamed Republicans on Capitol Hill said Mr. Fordham discouraged top House aides from disclosing the complaints to all the members of the board that oversees the page program.
“This is categorically false. At no point ever did I ask anyone to block any inquiries into Foley’s actions or behavior,” Mr. Fordham told the Associated Press. “The fact is, even prior to the existence of the Foley e-mail exchanges, I had more than one conversation with senior staff at the highest level of the House of Representatives asking them to intervene when I was informed of Mr. Foley’s inappropriate behavior.”
Mr. Fordham told ABC that in late 2003 he raised the issue with Mr. Hastert’s chief of staff, Scott Palmer, who discussed it with Mr. Foley and the speaker.
A spokesman for Mr. Hastert, Ron Bonjean, flatly denied Mr. Fordham’s account, telling several news outlets the alleged warnings “never happened.”
The disclosure by Mr. Fordham yesterday afternoon was a blow to Mr. Hastert, whose aggressive effort to hang on to his job was making some inroads earlier in the day.
One of several influential conservatives who called for Mr. Hastert’s resignation earlier in the week, Paul Weyrich, retreated a bit yesterday.
“I think I probably jumped at that too quickly,” Mr. Weyrich said, after taking a phone call from Mr. Hastert, who was traveling in his home state of Illinois.
The longtime conservative activist, who heads the Free Congress Foundation, told The New York Sun that Mr. Hastert insisted that he was never told of a problem with Mr. Foley by the House majority leader, John Boehner, who claims he gave the speaker such a warning. According to Mr. Weyrich, the speaker also said he had no recollection of Mr. Reynolds mentioning concerns about with Mr. Foley, but acknowledged that it could have been part of a laundry list of items raised by the GOP campaign chief.
Mr. Weyrich said he accepted that Mr. Hastert was unaware of the concerns about Mr. Foley before last week. “I’ve known Denny for many years. He is one of the more honest people in politics. He doesn’t try to dissemble and he doesn’t screw around,” Mr. Weyrich said.
Still, Mr. Weyrich said House leaders should not have permitted Mr. Foley, whose homosexuality was widely known in Washington circles, to head a caucus on missing and exploited children. “I don’t understand that. …Why didn’t they do something about it, at least making sure he had no interaction with male pages anyway?” Mr. Weyrich said. “It’s clear that political correctness had gripped the leadership.”
Asked why it was relevant that Mr. Foley was gay, Mr. Weyrich said, “We know that homosexuals have a preoccupation with sex, much more so than heterosexuals.”
Even as he warmed a bit toward Mr. Hastert yesterday, Mr. Weyrich made clear that the House leadership was deeply riven by the scandal. “I believe him when he says that he never talked to these other guys. That means somebody else is lying,” Mr. Weyrich said, adding that the speaker “did take Reynolds’s word, but not Boehner’s.”
Even as his chief of staff was resigning yesterday, Mr. Reynolds was attending a fund-raiser in his district with first lady Laura Bush. She made no mention of the political turmoil swirling around the congressman, but praised him for his “very important work” supporting reading programs for children.
Governor Pataki also attended the fund-raiser and a later news conference where Mr. Reynolds discussed Mr. Fordham’s abrupt exit. “He felt that his existence as my chief of staff would be a distraction,” the congressman said.
Mr. Reynolds said he was unaware until Tuesday that Mr. Fordham attempted to dissuade ABC from publishing some of the sexually explicit messages Mr. Foley exchanged with former pages. Mr. Fordham has said he was not trying to cover up the incidents but was simply trying to spare Mr. Foley’s family embarrassment.
Buffalo-area newscasts yesterday noted that Mr. Reynolds repeatedly mopped sweat from his brow as he fended off questions from the press.
ABC acknowledged yesterday that one explicit exchange it described as being with a minor actually took place after the former page turned 18. However, at least three other former pages have come forward in the past two days with stories of lurid e-mails from Mr. Foley.
Even as Mr. Hastert was buoyed yesterday by votes of confidence from some conservative stalwarts, the House majority whip, Roy Blunt of Missouri, made clear that he would have handled the matter differently and would not have dropped it because the parents of one of the former pages did not want to pursue it.
“I could have given some good advice here, which is you have to be curious, you have to ask all the questions you can think of,” Mr. Blunt said, according to the AP.”You absolutely can’t decide not to look into activities because one individual’s parents don’t want you to.”
While Mr. Fordham sought to shift blame to Mr. Hastert’s office yesterday, the longtime congressional aide has yet to be specific about when he first learned of concerns about Mr. Foley’s behavior and what prompted those worries.
“This was someone I had worked for for 10 years and had no inkling that this kind of blatantly reckless and just obscene behavior was going on behind our backs,” Mr. Fordham said Tuesday in an interview with the Buffalo News. “Frankly, if I had ever known this stuff was out there, I wouldn’t be talking to him at all.”
Mr. Fordham did not respond yesterday to requests from the Sun for an interview. Mr. Hastert has said his resignation would do political damage to Republicans across the country, but one of the conservative leaders pushing for the speaker’s departure, David Bossie of Citizens United, said House leaders are just prolonging the political agony.
“This is sad because now it is going to be death by a thousand cuts,” Mr. Bossie said. “This is why I recognized immediately that the speaker should resign to avoid this type of torture and bloodshed for the party. … If he wants to do what is best for the majority, what is best for the conservative movement, and what is best for America, he should go now. A clean slate, a breath of fresh air would be welcomed by the American people, and we’ll be beyond this scandal by the election.”