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Dems Object To Freeh Leading Probe

House Speaker Dennis Hastert said Thursday he is looking for a high-caliber figure to step in and fix flaws in the congressional page program that left the teenagers vulnerable to sexual advances.

Hastert was on the verge of naming former FBI Director Louis Freeh, who boasts a long, high-profile career in law enforcement, for the post. But the speaker held off because of objections from Democrats.

Hastert had called House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi on Thursday to notify her that he intended to hire Freeh to overhaul the program, their aides said. But Pelosi suggested it was too soon to make decisions about changing the program, and that Freeh might be the wrong man for the job.

"That's about public relations for the Republican leaders, it's not about protecting the children," Pelosi, D-Calif., said in an interview with The Associated Press. "It smacks of 'blame the victim.'"

The possibility that Republican leaders covered up evidence that Rep. Mark Foley, R-Fla., was making inappropriate overtures to pages needs to be investigated first, before any changes in the program are considered, said Pelosi spokeswoman Jen Crider.

But Crider noted that Hastert, R-Ill., could name Freeh without Pelosi's support if he chose.

At his news conference Thursday about the House ethics committee's investigation of the page scandal, Hastert didn't cite any candidates for the job of overhauling the page program.

"We're looking for a person of high caliber to advise us on the page program," he said at a news conference in Illinois. "I reached out to the Democrat leader and shared with her some of the ideas and we hope to resolve this soon."

Freeh had been an FBI agent in New York City and bureau headquarters in Washington. In 1991, President George H.W. Bush appointed him to a federal judgeship. Two years later, President Clinton nominated Freeh to be FBI director, calling him "a law enforcement legend."

But Freeh's relationship with Democrats was rocky.

Freeh urged Justice Department superiors to seek an independent counsel to investigate the 1996 presidential fundraising scandal, which focused largely on Democrats and the White House. The Justice Department turned him down.

After leaving office, Freeh was harshly critical of Clinton in his book, "My FBI." He wrote that, during Clinton's presidency, "whatever moral compass the president was consulting was leading him in the wrong direction."

"His closets were full of skeletons just waiting to burst out," said Freeh, who said he was preoccupied for eight years at the FBI with Clinton investigations, including Whitewater, 1996 presidential fundraising and the Monica Lewinsky affair.