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Ex-GOP Aide: Hastert Knew 3 Years Ago

A senior congressional aide said Wednesday he told the office of the Republican leader of the House of Representatives about worrisome conduct by his former boss, Rep. Mark Foley, toward teenage pages more than three years ago, long before officials have acknowledged becoming aware of the issue.

Kirk Fordham told The Associated Press that when he learned about Foley's inappropriate behavior toward pages, he had "more than one conversation with senior staff at the highest level of the House of Representatives asking them to intervene," alluding to House Speaker Dennis Hastert.

Hastert's office denied the explosive allegations.

While conservatives have been debating whether Hastert, one of the most powerful men in Washington, should resign, the embattled legislator has said he will not step down. The uproar has enveloped Republicans who were already at risk at losing control of Congress in elections Nov. 7 in which all 435 seats in the House are at stake.

The conversations took place long before the e-mail scandal broke, Fordham said, and at least a year earlier than members of the House Republican leadership have acknowledged.

Fordham, once Foley's top aide, is known to be gay. CBS News has learned that several other top Republican staffers who handled the Foley matter are also gay. Their role in this controversy has caused a firestorm among GOP conservatives, who charge that a group of high-level gay Republican staffers were protecting a gay Republican congressman, reports CBS News correspondent Gloria Borger.

Foley's attorney, David Roth, announced for the first time that Foley is gay, but insisted Foley never had sexual contact with a minor.

That precise wording may turn out to be very important, because in Washington D.C., 16-year-olds — the minimum age of a page — are not considered minors when it comes to having sex, reports CBS News correspondent Sharyl Attkisson.

Fordham resigned Wednesday as chief of staff to Rep. Thomas Reynolds, a member of that leadership.

Fordham spoke to the AP after ABC News quoted unidentified Republican sources as insinuating that he had intervened on behalf of Foley, his former boss, to prevent an inquiry into Foley's conduct.

"This is categorically false," Fordham said. "At no point ever did I ask anyone to block any inquiries into Foley's actions or behavior."

The longtime Capitol Hill aide said he would fully disclose to the FBI and the House ethics committee "any and all meetings and phone calls" regarding Foley's behavior that he had with senior staffers in the House leadership.

"The fact is even prior to the existence of the Foley e-mail exchanges I had more than one conversation with senior staff at the highest level of the House of Representatives asking them to intervene when I was informed of Mr. Foley's inappropriate behavior," Fordham said.

Fordham said one staffer to whom he spoke remains employed by a senior House Republican leader. He would not identify the staffer.

"Rather than trying to shift the blame on me, those who are employed by these House leaders should acknowledge what they know about their action or inaction in response to the information they knew about Mr. Foley prior to 2005," Fordham said.

A Capitol Hill aide for more than a decade, Fordham said he resigned because he did not want his role in the Foley matter to harm his boss Reynolds' re-election bid.

"I have no reason to state anything other than the facts. I have no congressman and no office to protect," Fordham said.

Before his resignation as Foley's chief of staff, Fordham had been serving in the same capacity for Reynolds, who has struggled to avoid political damage in the scandal's fallout.

Republicans have been trying to put the scandal behind them, but another member of the leadership, Rep. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., said pointedly during the day he would have handled the entire matter differently than Speaker Dennis Hastert did, had he known about the complaints when they were first raised last year.

"I think I could have given some good advice here, which is you have to be curious. You have to ask all the questions you can think of," Blunt said. "You absolutely can't decide not to look into activities because one individual's parents don't want you to."

Foley resigned last week after he was reported to have sent salacious electronic messages to teenage male pages. He has checked into an undisclosed facility for treatment of alcoholism, leaving behind a mushrooming political scandal and legal investigation.

Acting U.S. Attorney Jeff Taylor for the District of Columbia sought protection of the records in a three-page letter to House counsel Geraldine Gennet, according to a Justice official speaking on condition of anonymity.

Such letters often are followed by search warrants and subpoenas, and signal that investigators are moving closer to a criminal investigation.

The request was aimed at averting a conflict with the House similar to a standoff in May when FBI agents raided Rep. William Jefferson's office seeking information in a bribery investigation.

Meanwhile, FBI agents have begun interviewing participants in the House page program, according to a law enforcement official who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the continuing investigation. The official declined to say whether the interviews were limited to current pages or included former pages.

Justice Department spokeswoman Tasia Scolinos stressed that the investigation is still preliminary. Also, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement confirmed that it has begun its own preliminary inquiry. Spokesman Tom Berlinger said the case is in its initial stages and is not a full-blown criminal inquiry.

Fordham played a key role in fast-developing events late last week. Initially, Foley was reported to have written overly friendly not sexually explicit e-mails to a former Capitol page. A day later, ABC news followed up with a report that said the Florida lawmaker had also sent sexually explicit instant messages to at least one other male page.

He said earlier this week he asked Foley about the sexually explicit instant messages, and the congressman confirmed they were probably his.

"Like so many, I feel betrayed by Mark Foley's indefensible behavior," he said. He blamed Democrats for seeking to make a political issue of the matter in Reynolds' re-election campaign, "and I will not let them do so."

There were signs of concern among Republicans, as well.

Congressman Ron Lewis, R-Ky., Wednesday, canceled a fundraiser featuring Hastert. Hastert was to attend a $50-per-person fundraiser for Lewis, who represents Kentucky's Second District.

"I'm taking the speaker's words at face value," Lewis said in an interview. "I have no reason to doubt him. But until this is cleared up, I want to know the facts."

Sen. John McCain called for a group of former senators and others to investigate how the House handled the affair.

"We need to move forward quickly and we need to reach conclusions and recommendations about who is responsible," McCain said. "I think it needs to be addressed by people who are credible."

Some other Republicans rallied to the speaker. The chairmen of two coalitions of social and fiscal conservatives in Congress said he should not step down. "Speaker Hastert is a man of integrity," Rep. Mike Pence and Rep. Joe Pitts said in a joint statement.