Friday, October 13, 2006

Does Absence Make the House Ethics Commitee Grow Fonder?

Denny was back in Illinois stumping for Pete Roskam, but the Washington Post confirms that the Foley/Hastert scandal continued to unfold even in Denny's absence:
A key player in the unfolding scandal involving teenage pages and a Florida lawmaker testified for more than four hours before a House ethics committee panel yesterday, repeating his assertions that Speaker J. Dennis Hastert's top aide had early warnings about the congressman's questionable behavior toward youths, according to the witness's attorney.

Kirk Fordham, who was a chief of staff to then-Rep. Mark Foley (R), was consistent with his previous statements when he gave sworn testimony to a panel investigating the House's handling of Foley's actions, lawyer Timothy J. Heaphy told reporters after the two men emerged from an afternoon of questioning.

Fordham has said that he turned to Hastert's chief of staff, Scott Palmer, in 2003 in hopes of persuading Foley to stop showing so much interest in teenage pages, who work for a semester or two on Capitol Hill. Fordham has said Palmer later assured him that he had met privately with Foley and had informed Hastert (R-Ill.) of the situation.

In addition to Palmer, the ethics committe is investigating two other senior members of Hastert's staff, deputy chief of staff Mike Stokke and counsel Ted Van Der Meid.

Who are these gentlemen who may or may not have passed information about Foley's advances on teenagers -- and who may or may not have brought Denny's reign as Speaker of the House to an end? The Washington Post, again, gives us the scoop:

The three -- chief of staff Scott Palmer, deputy chief of staff Mike Stokke and counsel Ted Van Der Meid -- have formed a palace guard around Hastert (R-Ill.) for years, attaining great degrees of power and unusual autonomy to deal with matters of politics, policy and House operations. They are also remarkably close. Palmer and Stokke have been with Hastert for decades. They live together in a Capitol Hill townhouse and commute back to Illinois on weekends.

It is that relationship that has made investigators so interested in their knowledge of Foley's contacts with teenage male congressional pages, especially allegations that his chief of staff personally appealed to Palmer in 2003 to confront the Florida Republican. Foley resigned Sept. 29 when news reports indicated he had sent electronic messages to a former page.

"It would be very hard to believe if Palmer knew that kind of detail, he wouldn't have acted upon it, and it's hard to imagine Scott Palmer would have spared the speaker that knowledge," said one former Republican leadership aide, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of jeopardizing his lobbying contacts. ***

The speaker's own timeline points to Van Der Meid and Stokke as central players in the Foley matter. After Alexander's staff alerted a low-level Hastert aide in the fall of 2005, Stokke directed the information to Van Der Meid. Later that day, Stokke met with Alexander's chief of staff, then summoned Trandahl to the speaker's office. Later, Trandahl informed Van Der Meid that action had been taken to stop Foley's communications with the Louisiana youth.

A senior GOP aide, speaking on the condition of anonymity for fear of retribution, said it made little sense to have a political hand such as Stokke handle the Foley matter, a delicate issue involving personnel questions and possible legal violations.

"Did they make an affirmative decision to have the political guy work on this?" the GOP staffer asked. "It clearly was a bad damn idea."

Nowhere in the speaker's timeline is Palmer mentioned. But former leadership aides question how a powerful chief of staff could have been left out of such complicated deliberations and how they would have been kept from Hastert.

Sure current and former Republican leaders -- and their staffers -- are now questioning Denny's team, Denny's judgment and the wisdom of Denny's remaining as Speaker, but this Illinois liberal is firmly behind Denny.

Who would have guessed that the answer to Democratic prayers would be J. Dennis Hastert?

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