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House Ethics Committee Investigates Mark Foley E-mail Scandal

October 12, 2006 at 6:35 PM EDT
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RAY SUAREZ: Mark Foley hasn’t been seen or heard from
publicly since September 29th, when he abruptly resigned from Congress, just as
sexually explicit instant messages he sent to former congressional pages were
about to go public.

But Foley’s actions continue to reverberate in tightly
contested congressional races across the country and in Washington. At the Capitol today, attention
focused on a central figure in the scandal: Kirk Fordham, once Foley’s chief of
staff. Fordham came to the House Ethics Committee room in the Capitol basement
this afternoon.

Committee Republicans Doc Hastings and Judy Biggert and
Democrats Howard Berman and Stephanie Tubbs Jones, given the job of
investigating how Congress handled the matter, questioned Fordham about who
knew about Foley’s behavior and when.

Fordham previously said he warned Speaker Dennis Hastert’s
office in 2003 or earlier about Foley’s behavior; that contradicts Hastert’s
claim that his office learned only late last year that Foley has sent out
e-mails considered “over-friendly.” Hastert has maintained that, once
his aides learned of the e-mails, he alerted Illinois Republican John Shimkus,
chairman of the board that oversees the page program, and that Shimkus sought
out Foley.

REP. DENNIS HASTERT (R-IL), Speaker of the House: He
confronted the member. And the member said that he would stop doing that. Asked
if there was any other messages, he said, “No.” And he said,
“Don’t do it again.” You know, that’s what we did.

RAY SUAREZ: Shimkus will testify before the committee
tomorrow. Former House clerk Jeff Trandahl, who reportedly went with Shimkus to
confront Foley, is also likely to testify. And late this afternoon, Kirk
Fordham and his attorney emerged from the committee room after five hours of
questioning.

TIMOTHY HEAPHY, Lawyer for Kirk Fordham: Kirk has been
forthcoming with them. He has been consistent in his accounts of these events
when he’s met with the FBI, when he’s today met with the Ethics Committee. He’s
been truthful and cooperative and will continue to be throughout this and other
investigations.

We have been asked not to share the substance of the inquiry
because of the ongoing investigations. We really can’t provide any information
specifically about what was asked.

RAY SUAREZ: In all, about four dozen subpoenas have been
issued by the committee, but its members won’t confirm the names of those
summoned. However, the office of Majority Leader John Boehner has said he’s
been asked to testify. Boehner has claimed that Hastert told him months ago the
Foley situation had been dealt with.

Other witnesses may include the speaker and three top aides,
Arizona Republican Jim Kolbe, who said he knew as early as 2000 of
inappropriate e-mails Foley had sent, and New York Republican Tom Reynolds, who
also claims he discussed Foley with Hastert this past spring.

Foley could be called to testify, too. Since he’s no longer
a member of Congress, the Ethics Committee has no authority to discipline him.

A separate criminal investigation is being conducted by the
FBI. On Tuesday, agents in Oklahoma
City spent nearly three hours questioning former
congressional page Jordan Edmund. He reportedly received explicit instant
messages from Foley in 2001 and 2002.

Integrity of the Ethics Committee

RAY SUAREZ: For more on this story, we turn to Ben Pershing, senioreditor of the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call.

Well, five hours is a long time to be behind closed doors.

BEN PERSHING, Senior Editor, Roll Call: It certainly is.

RAY SUAREZ: Do we know anything about what was said incommittee today?

BEN PERSHING: We know very little. There was some leaksbefore the meeting about what Fordham was expected to say, and he was expectedto reconfirm what he's been saying publicly, which is that he told ScottPalmer, Dennis Hastert's chief of staff, in 2003 or 2002 that Mark Foley had aproblem with pages and that something needed to be done about it.

He said that a week ago, and he was expected to say it againat the Ethics Committee and, from what we gather, was expected to, as he said,demonstrate that this happened. Now, that's key, because at this point there'sno evidence that that meeting took place, and Palmer himself has denied thatthe meeting took place.

RAY SUAREZ: Is this sealed, secret, like a grand jury, ordoes it just take place away from the wandering eye, the intrusive eye of thepress?

BEN PERSHING: I'm not sure what the legal requirement is. Traditionally,the Ethics Committee does operate in secret. There are very few leaks out ofthat committee, which is unusual for Capitol Hill, as you know. Usuallyeverything leaks. But both parties usually take it very seriously. They don'tleak what was said and who said it. And they think it's important to theintegrity of the committee that things stay secret.

Sorting out the facts

RAY SUAREZ: What are the key questions that remain to beanswered, the facts that remain to be understood?

BEN PERSHING: There are several, really. I mean, the firstquestion is, what exactly did Foley do? And the FBI is investigating that elementof it.

But the real question is, how many pages did he haverelationships with? What were the nature of those relationships? Did they gobeyond electronic messages, or was there actual physical meetings and contactswith some of them? How old were they when it happened? Were laws broken?

And then, on Capitol Hill, the question is, how long ago didother members and House officials know that this was a problem, and what didthey do about it? And the real question here is, did several people inresponsible positions know about this and, for various reasons, just choose notto act on it?

RAY SUAREZ: Well, Kirk Fordham was chief of staff to Foleyhimself and then to Congressman Reynolds of New York...

BEN PERSHING: Right, yes.

RAY SUAREZ: ... two people now intimately involved in thisstory. But is his version of events already being publicly contradicted byother people who've spoken on this matter?

BEN PERSHING: Fordham's version of events has only beencontradicted by Speaker Hastert's office. And Scott Palmer, Speaker Hastert'slong-time chief of staff, has said this did not happen. He says he did not meetwith Kirk Fordham in 2002 or 2003, did not discuss with Fordham any problemwith Foley and pages.

And there's a real contradiction between those two stories. Wehave not yet seen real evidence that it did happen, nor has Palmer produced anyevidence to suggest why it couldn't have happened. It's theoretically possiblethat one or the other of them has a faulty memory, although you would thinkthis is something pretty significant and not something you would forget about.

RAY SUAREZ: There are several sets of communications,apparently.

BEN PERSHING: Yes.

RAY SUAREZ: E-mails and IM, instant message logs, and they-- different sets of pages involved who were in service at the time, stillyounger teenagers, and older people who had phased out of the program. Is thatan important distinction, as we learn more about this?

BEN PERSHING: I think it will be an important distinctionlegally. And I'm not a lawyer, but I do know in every state there's differentlaws about age of consent, about when people can have sexual contact. And ifsome of these pages were 18 or 19, it's entirely possible that Mark Foleydidn't break any laws.

On the other hand, beyond state laws, there are federal lawsnow on the books -- ironically, some of which Mark Foley helped write and pass-- that restrict what can be sent over the Internet, that restrict obscenemessages being sent over the Internet to minors. So the question is, how do youdefine a minor? How old were they? And, you know, were they of an age when theycan responsibly have a relationship like this?

Ripples into the midterm elections

RAY SUAREZ: Today, West Virginia Congresswoman Shelley MooreCapito came out and made a public statement on this. Why did she do that?

BEN PERSHING: Well, I think she's taking some heat backhome. She is on the page board. There are three members of Congress who are onthe page board, two Republicans and one Democrat, and Capito was not informedof this issue in late 2005. The only person on the page board who was informed,as far as we know, is the chairman of that committee, and that's John Shimkusof Illinois.

He didn't inform either Capito or the Democrat on thecommittee -- that's Dale Kildee of Michigan-- he didn't inform either of them about this. He and the clerk of the House,as far as we know, went to Foley and confronted him about this first set of non-explicite-mails and asked him to stop contacting this page.

Now, what Capito is getting back home is her Democraticopponent saying, "She covered this up. Why didn't she know? Why isn't sheprotecting children?" And she felt like she had to go out and make clearshe didn't know about this and that she's disgusted by it.

RAY SUAREZ: Well, here's one congresswoman back-pedaling,putting some distance between herself and the issue. Is it sending out thatkind of ripples into a lot of campaigns?

BEN PERSHING: It is. There are fair number of campaigns --you're seeing Republican candidates all over the place make clear that they'redisgusted by this scandal, that anyone who covered it up should be held toaccount. They're not going so far as to call for Speaker Hastert to resign oranything like that, but you're seeing a lot of campaigns -- in Minnesota this happened in the Senate race, in TomReynolds' race in upstate New Yorkin particular. The Democrats have really seized on this issue and are attackingRepublicans for it.

RAY SUAREZ: Now, is the committee -- and here they've openedtheir -- they've been doing these question sessions -- are they a finder offact? If it comes down to, "he said, he said," in putting togetherthe chronology, putting together some conclusions, will they, in fact, comedown on one side or the other of what went wrong or who was to blame?

BEN PERSHING: They typically do. I mean, this is acomplicated issue. It's possible they could find gray area or, if you have acase where you have no evidence to back up one side or the other of a "hesaid, she said" story, it's possible it could be gray.

But normally what this committee does is, when they do reacha conclusion, which can sometimes take a while, they're usually prettyconclusive. They say, "This committee finds that x, y, or zhappened," and either it was a flat-out violation of House rules or, moreimportantly, they can say a member has brought discredit to the House, broughtdishonor to the House as an institution. And that's not a formal sanction, butit is serious.

RAY SUAREZ: Ben Pershing from Roll Call. Thanks for joiningus.

BEN PERSHING: Thanks for having me.