Key Witnesses Testify In Page Probe

Former House Clerk Jeff Trandahl arrives to testify on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Oct. 19, 2006 before the House Ethics Committee. (AP Photo/Dennis Cook) AP Photo/Dennis Cook

House Majority Leader John Boehner testified before the House Ethics Committee on Thursday, indicating afterward that he repeated his statements that he had told Speaker Dennis Hastert of Rep. Mark Foley's overly friendly e-mails to a former male page.

Boehner, R-Ohio, would not say what he specifically told the committee behind closed doors, but has publicly quoted Hastert as telling him the complaint "had been taken care of."

"I made myself clear on the record for the last three weeks, and I told the ethics committee today the same thing that I've told many of you," Boehner said.

He appeared after the former clerk of the House testified about his actions regarding Foley's inappropriate conduct with male pages.

Hastert has said he doesn't recall the conversation with Boehner.

Boehner also issued a written statement, saying, "The despicable conduct from Mark Foley outraged all members who have great respect for this institution. Had anyone known about it, we would have moved to expel him from our ranks immediately."

Former House Clerk Jeff Trandahl did not answer reporters' questions as he left the panel's offices after several hours of testimony. His appearance was central to the case, though, since he shouldered day-to-day responsibility for the page program and had confronted Foley last fall about inappropriate e-mails.

"Jeff Trandahl has cooperated fully with the investigation being conducted by the FBI and the ... Committee on Standards. He answered every question asked of him, and stands ready to render additional assistance if needed," Trandahl's attorney, Como Namorato, said in a statement.

Namorato said that Trandahl would not comment while the investigation in ongoing.

At issue in the ethics committee investigation is how the office of Hastert, R-Ill., dealt with the knowledge that Foley, a Florida Republican, was sending inappropriate e-mails to teenage congressional pages. The answers could affect not just Hastert but the prospects for control of the House when voters cast ballots in the Nov. 7 midterm elections.

Sources tell CBS News that Trandahl was expected to say that he kept the speaker's counsel in the loop on all problems relating to pages, reports CBS News correspondent Gloria Borger.

Trandhal sent red flags over the years to Foley's staff, saying he was "spending too much time doting on the pages." Each time the congressman was told to stop, he denied any inappropriate behavior.

One former aide says: "We always thought it was Mark being Mark. We never thought it would go to the next step. We never thought he would be stupid enough to contact them off campus."

In an internal report released by Hastert, his aides contend that they first learned about Foley's conduct in the fall of 2005, when they became aware of overly friendly e-mails to a former Louisiana page. However, Foley's former top aide said he told Hastert's chief of staff about Foley's conduct in 2002 or 2003.

The speaker's statements conflict with those of Kirk Fordham, Foley's former chief of staff, who said he told Hastert chief of staff Scott Palmer about Foley in 2002 or 2003. Palmer disputed Fordham's version of events.

Trandahl was the official who likely would have known about any problems involving the page program, including improper conduct by pages or improper approaches from lawmakers or House employees. He supervised the program and was on its controlling group, the House Page Board, which consists of three lawmakers, the House clerk and the sergeant at arms.

Foley resigned his seat Sept. 29 after he was confronted with sexually explicit instant messages he sent former male pages, messages far more damaging than those sent the Louisiana page. In that case, Foley asked what the 16-year-old wanted for his birthday and requested a picture.

Foley, 52, has said through his attorney that he is alcoholic, gay and had been molested as a boy by a "clergyman."

Meanwhile, a priest acknowledged he was naked in saunas with Foley decades ago when the former congressman was a boy in Florida, but denied that the two had sex.

The Rev. Anthony Mercieca, 69, speaking from his home on the Maltese island of Gozo, said a report in a Florida newspaper about their encounters was "exaggerated."

"We were friends and trusted each other as brothers and loved each other as brothers," Mercieca said. Asked if their association was sexual, the priest replied: "It wasn't."

Mercieca's comments came after the Sarasota Herald-Tribune published a story describing several encounters in the 1960s that the priest said Foley might perceive as sexually inappropriate. Those included massaging the boy in the nude, skinny-dipping together at a secluded lake in Lake Worth and being nude in the same room on overnight trips.

Trandahl is known to have confronted Foley at least once. The chairman of the Page Board, Rep. John Shimkus, R-Ill., has said publicly that he and Trandahl spoke with Foley in the fall of 2005 after learning — from Hastert's aides — about the e-mails to the former Louisiana page. The boy's parents wanted the contact ended, and Foley promised to comply, Shimkus said.

  • Sean Alfano

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