Springfield Journal Register

December 9, 2006

Shimkus, Hastert rapped on page case

But ethics committee report finds no House rules broken

WASHINGTON - The House ethics committee on Friday criticized House Speaker Dennis Hastert, Rep. John Shimkus and other Republicans for failing to protect congressional pages from inappropriate advances from Rep. Mark Foley.
 

However, as it ended a two-month investigation of the scandal that contributed to the GOP defeat in November, the panel found no evidence that current lawmakers violated House rules. The committee's report said it was "disturbed" by a pattern of conduct by many "to remain willfully ignorant of the potential consequences of former Representative Foley's conduct with respect to House pages."

No one will be reprimanded.

The ethics panel has no jurisdiction over Foley, a Florida Republican, because he resigned in September after news reports revealed he had sent sexually explicit computer messages to teen pages. There is an ongoing criminal investigation of Foley in Florida.

Hastert, of Plano, and Shimkus, who represents part of Springfield, were at the center of the controversy. After learning of Foley's contacts with a former page, Shimkus, who heads the House Page Board, decided to quietly confront Foley on his own last year without notifying the two other lawmakers on the bipartisan board.

House Clerk Jeff Trandahl told the committee that when he approached Shimkus, he characterized Foley as a "ticking time bomb," according to the report.

"At a minimum, Shimkus had an obligation to learn more facts regarding

the e-mails before concluding that he should handle the matter himself without informing the other members of the Page Board or seeking their input," the ethics panel concluded in its 89-page report.

The committee said it "was not persuaded" by Shimkus' argument "that the Page Board did not have jurisdiction over the matter because it involved a former page rather than a current one." When Shimkus met with Foley, he had not seen the sexually explicit computer messages, which did not become public until September. The portions of e-mails reviewed by Shimkus were viewed as inappropriate but were not sexually explicit.

Despite Shimkus' denials, the report indicates he did take politics into consideration when he decided not to inform the page board's Democratic member, Rep. Dale Kildee of Michigan. After Foley resigned, Shimkus told fellow Republican page board member Rep. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia "that he believed that he had done the right thing in 2005 based on the information he had, but added words to the effect of 'Dale's (Rep. Kildee) a nice guy, but he's a Democrat and I was afraid it would be blown out of proportion."'

Shimkus told the ethics committee that the statement was made in frustration over the timing of the release of the sexually explicit messages just prior to the election.

Shimkus has said he was respecting the request for privacy by the parents of the former page when he chose not to notify other lawmakers.

The ethics panel concluded that Shimkus should have demanded copies of all relevant e-mails or other documents, if not before, then after he confronted Foley.

The report said "confronting a member in such a matter without having access to all relevant information was imprudent." But it concluded that "the action did not constitute conduct failing to reflect creditably on the House."

"The family's desire for privacy could have been accommodated while still investigating the matter more aggressively," the panel stated.

In a statement issued by his office, Shimkus said "the report confirms what I have said all along. I acted upon the situation with limited information. I wish I had done more and, given more information, I would have.

"But the report confirms my honesty and integrity. My decisions were based solely on deference to the former page's family." He declined to discuss the matter further.

The scandal also raised questions about when Hastert knew about Foley's inappropriate contact with pages and whether his top aides did anything to stop it.

The panel concluded that Hastert was told, at least in passing, about the e-mails by both Majority Leader John Boehner and Rep. Tom Reynolds last spring. Hastert said he didn't recall those conversations.

Hastert's top aide, Scott Palmer, knew about the Foley problem in late 2002 or 2003, the panel concluded. Palmer has denied this.

Hastert's counsel Ted Van Der Meid also should have done more, according to the committee, noting that he took "an inexplicable lack of interest" in the e-mails.

In a brief statement issued by his office, Hastert said, "I am glad the committee made clear that there was no violation of any House rules by any member or staff."

The panel also found that one Democratic aide had copies of suggestive computer messages by Foley and gave them to reporters and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. That prompted a strong warning that lawmakers and other House employees "are obligated to pursue specific and non-specific allegations of improper interaction" between lawmakers and pages.

"The failure to exhaust all reasonable efforts to call attention to potential misconduct involving a member and House page is not merely the exercise of poor judgment; it is a present danger to the House pages and to the integrity of the institution of the House," the panel said.

Incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said she found the ethics committee's conclusions "deeply troubling."

"As a mother and as a leader in Congress, protecting the young people who serve as pages is a high priority," she said.

 

Dori Meinert can be reached at 202-737-7686 or dori.meinert@copleydc.com. Joe Cantlupe can be reached at 202-737-7687 or joe.cantlupe@copleydc.com.