Springfield Journal Register

October 13, 2006

Shimkus to appear before panel today

Attorney doesn't expect any surprises

WASHINGTON - Rep. John Shimkus, an Illinois Republican and key player in his party's handling of the House page scandal, is scheduled to appear before the House ethics committee today.
 

Shimkus, who represents part of Springfield, heads the House Page Board and quietly confronted former Republican Rep. Mark Foley last fall about his inappropriate contact with a former House page. Shimkus has said he was honoring the page's parents request for privacy, though critics say he should have been more aggressive and taken the matter to the full, three-member Page Board, which includes a Democrat.

The bipartisan ethics panel has launched a wide-ranging probe of the Foley scandal.

"I don't think there are going to be any surprises at all," Shimkus' newly hired attorney, Barry Pollack, said Thursday.

"His role in this is very small, based on very limited information. I think the media already knows what he did and why he did it. I don't expect that anything's going to change as a result of his willingness and interest to share what he does know with the committee so they can get a full picture," said Pollack, whose recent victories include an acquittal for a former Enron Corp. executive in a federal criminal case.

Shimkus declined to be interviewed Thursday, said his press secretary Steve Tomaszewski.

Shimkus had contacted the committee to offer his assistance, his aide said, although if he hadn't done so, he undoubtedly would have gotten one of the four dozen subpoenas the panel authorized at its initial meeting last week. Shimkus also will cooperate with an FBI investigation, Tomaszewski said.

Despite two weeks of intense media coverage, many gaps remain in information provided by the key players, including Shimkus, House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Plano, Hastert aides and former House Clerk Jeff Trandahl.

Shimkus has said he was informed last November by Trandahl that the parents of a former page from Louisiana had complained of inappropriate e-mails from Foley to their teenage son. Shimkus said he was given excerpts of an e-mail, purportedly from the Florida lawmaker to the 16-year-old page, asking how he was doing after Hurricane Katrina and requesting a photo. (The sender and recipient names weren't attached.)

Shimkus said that he and Trandahl went immediately to Foley to ask him about the e-mail. Many critics have questioned Shimkus' decision not to inform the other two lawmakers on the Page Board, who have reacted angrily to being left out.

While Shimkus and Hastert have given accounts that are largely consistent, it remains unclear who decided that only Shimkus and Trandahl would handle the Foley matter and keep it close to the vest. Conservative Republicans and Democrats have accused the Republican leadership of a political cover-up to protect a safe GOP seat, which Shimkus and Hastert have denied.

Mike Stokke, a top Hastert aide normally in charge of political matters, directed the Foley e-mail complaint to Hastert's counsel Ted Van Der Meid, who in turn referred the matter to Trandahl, according to a timeline released by Hastert's office. Hastert said he wasn't informed at the time. Trandahl hasn't weighed in with his account.

Shimkus and Hastert both said in written statements that they didn't learn of the more sexually explicit instant messages from Foley to former pages until Sept. 29, when ABC News reported them. Foley resigned his House seat the same day.

However, some of Hastert's account has been challenged by other House members and staffers.

Foley's former chief of staff, Kirk Fordham, who testified before the ethics committee Thursday, repeated his previous claim that he gave information about Foley to Hastert chief of staff Scott Palmer in 2002 or 2003, Fordham's attorney said. Palmer has denied it. Two members of Hastert's leadership team also claim they spoke to Hastert this past spring about the Louisiana e-mails.

Shimkus will be the second lawmaker to appear before the ethics committee. On Thursday, Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., the only other Republican on the House Page Board, spent more than an hour behind the committee's closed doors.

When she emerged, she repeated that she was not informed by Shimkus of the Foley matter last fall.

"I want the investigation to go forth quickly and reach a conclusion," she said.

But longtime congressional observers have little confidence in the ethics committee's ability to get to the bottom of the scandal. "It's a toothless tiger," said Larry Sabato, a political science professor at the University of Virginia.

The scandal isn't expected to jeopardize Shimkus' or Hastert's re-election bids, said Sabato, who recently returned from Illinois. But it has jeopardized several other Republican candidates in less safe districts.

Meanwhile, Shimkus and other central Illinois lawmakers have been contacting current and former pages to find out if they had any inappropriate contact with Foley or any other member of Congress. All House members have been asked to survey their former pages at the ethics committee's request.

As of Thursday, Rep. Ray LaHood's staff has reached four of his seven former pages, but none reported any problems, said Joan DeBoer, a spokeswoman for the Peoria Republican.

Shimkus has sent a letter to former pages asking them to contact the ethics committee directly with any complaints, spokesman Tomaszewski said. Prior to that, Shimkus hadn't heard of any complaints from his former pages, Tomaszewski said.

 

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