Bush, GOP Give Hastert A Boost

House Speaker Dennis Hastert is getting support from President Bush and other Republican Party luminaries after vowing not to resign over his handling of the unfolding page cybersex scandal.

"He really ought not be a sacrificial lamb," former Secretary of State James Baker III told CBS News on Friday.

President Bush called Hastert late Thursday to reassure him amid allegations that the House speaker did not do enough to protect the teenage House pages from former Rep. Mark Foley's advances.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., issued a statement supporting Hastert Thursday night. And Mr. Bush's father, the former President Bush, spoke up for him during an ABC News interview.

The boost comes after a week of wavering support from House Republicans in the wake of revelations that Foley, R-Fla., had been sending inappropriate e-mails to teenage pages for years.

Also Friday, the Los Angeles Times editorial board called for Hastert to resign because his "leadership of the House was already bad enough before the Mark Foley scandal."

Hastert had blamed Democrats for the election-season revelations, but on Thursday abruptly changed course and took responsibility for the matter.

Hastert vowed not to resign over his office's handling of the scandal — "I haven't done anything wrong," he said — but it has cost Republicans in public opinion polls.

"I'm deeply sorry this has happened and the bottom line is we're taking responsibility," Hastert said at a news conference outside his district office in Batavia, Ill.

That seemed to quiet rumblings about Hastert's resignation as the week drew to a close and House and Justice Department officials launched separate investigations.

Baker told Early Show co-anchor Harry Smith that Hastert deserves credit for urging a probe of a sex scandal in the shadow of the midterm elections. And he offered a pragmatic reason for the party to stand by him.

"If they throw Denny Hastert off the sled to slow down the wolves, it won't be long before you'll be crying, 'Hey, you've got to throw somebody else over because they knew about it too,"' Baker said.

Privately, though, CBS News correspondent Gloria Borger reports Republicans say Hastert's mea culpa was the least he could do, but they're far from sure it will be enough.

On the record, they're trying to be upbeat.

"Hopefully, he's cleared the air so members and challengers can have this off the front pages of the paper," said Rep. Ray Lahood, R-Ill.

But other House Republicans remain panicked by the Foley scandal and wonder if the only way to recover is to jettison Hastert.

The speaker told conservative activist Paul Weyrich, that he'll do what's necessary.

"If he thought by resigning that he would help Republicans keep their majority, he would do so," Weyrich said.

Here's why it could come to that, reports Borger: With elections a month away, some internal Republican polls and House races across the country show what one strategist calls "a significant receding of our numbers."

An Associated Press poll shows that about half of all likely voters consider the scandal in Congress an important factor in their votes next month. And a Time magazine poll finds that two-thirds of Americans who are aware of scandal believe Republican leaders tried to cover it up.


Meanwhile, the bipartisan ethics panel met Thursday for the first time, approving nearly four dozen subpoenas for witnesses and documents regarding improper conduct between lawmakers and current and former pages and who may have known about it.

Ethics committee chairman Doc Hastings, R-Wash., would not say whether Hastert was among those subpoenaed.

The ethics committee's senior Democrat, Rep. Howard Berman of California, said the investigation should take "weeks, not months."

Hastings and Berman will conduct the investigation along with Reps. Stephanie Tubbs Jones, D-Ohio, and Judith Biggert, R-Ill., whose district is next to Hastert's.

While the committee — officially the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct — is investigating potential violations of House rules, the Justice Department appeared to be moving with dispatch in its criminal investigation.

The FBI has contacted a former congressional page from Kentucky as part of the burgeoning investigation, said Daniel London, chief of staff to Rep. Ron Lewis, R-Ky., who sponsored the teen.

Attorneys for the Justice Department and the House negotiated on how to give investigators access to Foley's files without inciting a legal battle like the one after the FBI raided the office of Rep. William Jefferson, D-La., earlier this year.

Ex-Foley chief of staff Kirk Fordham met with the FBI. Fordham emerged as a key figure Wednesday when he told reporters that he had talked three years ago with top aides to Hastert about Foley's conduct with pages.

Fordham's version directly contradicts an account issued by Hastert's office on Saturday, saying the speaker's staff only learned of an "over-friendly" e-mail exchange between Foley and a single page. Hastert's top aide, Scott Palmer, denies that Fordham warned top GOP aides of Foley and inappropriate conduct with other pages.

CBS News correspondent Sharyl Attkisson reports that the FBI also visited former page Tyson Vivyan, who said Foley sent him sexually charged instant messages, but only after he left the page program. He told CBS News the messages were "referencing genitalia, referencing specific acts between the two of us, things like that."

Since Vivyan wasn't a minor, the FBI told him it didn't appear Foley had violated any laws in his case.

Foley, 52, stepped down Friday after he was confronted with sexually explicit electronic messages he had sent teenage male pages and promptly checked into an alcohol rehabilitation clinic. Through his lawyer, he has said he is gay but denied any sexual contact with minors.

In his remarks Thursday, Hastert held to his assertion that he did not know about messages sent by Foley to a former House page until the scandal broke last week, while acknowledging mistakes in how the situation was handled.

"Could we have done it better? Could the page board have handled it better? In retrospect, probably yes," Hastert said. "But at the time what we knew and what we acted upon was what we had."

Added Hastert: "I don't know who knew what when. ... If it's members of my staff that didn't do the job, we will act appropriately."