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Speaker Hastert testifies before panel probing sex scandal
Top Republican in Congress: "They needed to move quickly to get to the bottom of this issue."
The top Republican in Congress, Speaker Dennis Hastert, says the House ethics committee should quickly determine whether officials took proper action after learning of former Congressman Mark Foley's overly friendly and salacious computer messages to former teenage male assistants. He may get his wish. Most of the key players in the scandal already have been questioned. One likely witness is Hastert aide Ted Van Der Meid, who was among the speaker's staff assistants who learned of Foley's questionable e-mails to a former teen assistant in the fall of 2005, according to a report by the speaker's office. Hastert, the leader of the House of Representatives, has said he first learned of Foley's sexually explicity e-mails to former teen assistants, called pages, late last month as the matter became public and Foley left the House. Hastert, who testified Tuesday, said afterward that he told the committee that "they needed to move quickly to get to the bottom of this issue, including who knew about the sexually explicit messages and when they knew about it." The committee Tuesday also questioned Mike Stokke, Hastert's deputy chief of staff, and House Republican campaign chairman Tom Reynolds. Stokke learned of Foley's e-mails along with Van Der Meid a year ago, and Reynolds said he warned the speaker about Foley last spring. The speaker said he can't recall the conversation. Stokke, who was with the committee for five hours, would not comment after his testimony. The four ethics committee members serving as investigators are not tipping their hands on the timetable or whether they plan an interim report before the Nov. 7 congressional elections. Polls have shown the scandal has hurt Republicans, who are trying to maintain their majority in both houses of Congress. Republicans have asked the committee to interview Democrats, to see whether they had copies of Foley's messages and strategically released them near the election. Nothing to support the accusation has turned up publicly. It is unclear whether the panel has communicated with Foley or plans to do so. The Florida Republican can no longer be punished by the House, since he left Congress' jurisdiction when he resigned his seat in late September. But he could be questioned. One of Foley's attorneys, William Taylor III of Washington, declined to comment on whether Foley had been asked to appear. Once the questioning ends, however, the investigators will have to unravel conflicting accounts of when key officials learned that Foley, who resigned his House seat, was sending overly friendly and salacious messages to former male House pages. Hastert is at the center of conflicting accounts with Reynolds _ who testified shortly before the speaker _ and with Republican Majority Leader John Boehner who testified last week. Hastert says he cannot recall Reynolds or Boehner telling him about Foley's conduct earlier this year, although both commented repeatedly that the conversations took place. Boehner said after he testified last week that he had not changed his account. Hastert said he answered investigators' questions "to the best of my ability." What has emerged to date is a pattern in which incidents involving Foley's inappropriate behavior have been handled by a few staff aides and lawmakers, rather than being referred to the ethics committee or the full membership of the bipartisan board overseeing the page program. Hastert said his staff members acted correctly after learning about the communications with the Louisiana page in the fall of 2005. Hastert's report said the staff notified the chief clerk of the House, who subsequently confronted Foley along with Republoican Rep. John Shimkus, chairman of the five-member board that oversees the page program. They demanded that Foley stop communicating with the youngster, and no further action was taken.
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