Peoria Journal Star

October 4, 2006

Hastert rejects demands to quit
Foley alleges clergy molestation as youth; scandal continues to swirl

WASHINGTON, D.C. - House Speaker Dennis Hastert on Tuesday rejected the demand by some high-profile conservatives that he resign his speaker's post and won a strong show of support from President Bush on his handling of the congressional page scandal.

Meanwhile, former Rep. Mark Foley's attorney said at a Florida news conference that Foley, 52, had been molested between the ages of 13 and 15 by a clergyman. David Roth also said Foley, who had not spoken about his sexual orientation, wanted people to know that he is gay. Roth insisted, though, that Foley never had sexual contact with a minor.

In an appearance on conservative host Rush Limbaugh's talk show, Hastert blamed Democrats for promoting the page scandal even as the second-ranking House Republican contradicted his account of the scandal. The Illinois Republican, whose clouthas helped further numerous projects in the state, is facing

the biggest challenge of his tenure as he confronts the scandal over former Rep. Mark Foley's inappropriate contact with congressional pages and tries to hang on to his party's majority against increasingly daunting odds.

"I'm not going to do that," Hastert said when Limbaugh asked him whether he would resign.

Hastert blamed Democrats for leaking sexually explicit e-mails between Foley and former pages from 2003 just before the upcoming election.

"We have a story to tell and the Democrats have - in my view - put this thing forward to try to block us from telling the story," Hastert said. "They're trying to put us on the defense."

Defending Hastert

Campaigning for Republicans in California, the president said he was "shocked and dismayed" at Foley's actions and expressed confidence in the speaker's call for a thorough investigation.

"I know Denny Hastert. I meet with him a lot," Bush said. "He is a father, teacher, coach who cares about the children of this country."

"... I know that he wants all the facts to come out and he wants to ensure that these children up there on Capitol Hill are protected. I'm confident he will provide whatever leadership he can to law enforcement in this investigation."

The House ethics committee has scheduled a meeting on Foley's actions for Thursday, in closed session. The House OK'd an inquiry into the matter last Friday.

Hastert told reporters on Monday that he wasn't aware of the inappropriate e-mails until Friday. Foley resigned Friday after ABC News reported the Internet exchanges. Rep. John Shimkus, R-Collinsville, who chairs the House Page Board, acknowledged he confronted Foley last fall and asked him to stop e-mailing a male page at the teen's parents' request, but said he wasn't aware of the sexually explicit Internet messages. However, an increasing number of conservatives have called for Hastert to step down.

Conservative fury

"Hastert has fumbled this big time," conservative activist Richard Viguerie said. "There was smoke, and Denny Hastert was the fire chief, and he walked away from the smoke. At a bare minimum, he should have looked at Foley's computer hard drive."

Viguerie predicted that many conservatives won't turn out on election day, which could cause Republicans to lose control of the House.

Also Tuesday, the reliably conservative Washington Times demanded Hastert's resignation.

"Either he was grossly negligent for not taking the red flags fully into account and ordering a swift investigation, for not even remembering the order of events leading up to last week's revelations - or he deliberately looked the other way in hopes that a brewing scandal would simply blow away," the editorial stated.

Earlier in the day, House Majority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, appeared to be distancing himself from Hastert when he said he had talked to the speaker about the e-mails last spring and that Hastert "told me it was taken care of." He made the comments during an interview on radio station WLW in Cincinnati.

LaHood weighs in

Rep. Ray LaHood, R-Peoria, blamed Hastert's staff for failing to inform him.

"If there's anyone at fault, it's the speaker's staff. They should have brought this to his attention," LaHood said in an interview on CNN.

He said he believes Hastert when he says he doesn't remember if Rep. Tom Reynolds, R-N.Y., who heads the GOP campaign committee, told him about it.

However, LaHood acknowledged that the scandal is capturing voters' attention across the country and making it difficult for Republicans to get their message out.

"It's going to be tough. We have a big job ahead to energize our base," LaHood said. "The truth is nobody knows who the majority party is going to be. It's going to be a very close election. We have a lot of work to do. We have a lot of persuading to do. We have to make sure our people get to the polls."

A spokeswoman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee said it's too early to make predictions on which party will control the House after the elections.

"I think what has become clear here is that you have a Republican leadership who knew that there were inappropriate e-mails between a member of Congress and an underage child and instead of acting as parents or acting as protectors, they . . . decided to protect the congressional seat instead," said DCCC spokeswoman Sarah Feinberg.

But Carl Forti, spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee, predicted the Foley scandal will have no effect on the elections.

"I don't know of any member of Congress who lost because of something someone else did," Forti said. "There's no way that conservatives are going to let Democrats take over the House."

He contended Hastert has wide-ranging support, citing the Limbaugh appearance and Bush's statements.

Democrats have "no business playing politics with this," Forti said, noting that in 1983 several now-high-ranking Democrats voted against censuring Rep. Gerry Studds, D-Mass., for having sexual relations with a male page. At the same time, the House censured Rep. Daniel Crane, R-Ill., for having sexual relations with a female page.

 

The Associated Press also contributed to this story.

Dori Meinert can be reached at (202) 737-7686 or dori.meinert@copleydc.com.