Republicans spar over role Reynolds' aide played in Foley case

Citing Capitol Hill sources, ABC says Dennis Hastert demanded Kirk Fordham's resignation.

Published October 4, 2006 6:36PM (EDT)

They're turning on themselves now.

As we reported a few minutes ago, the chief of staff for NRCC chairman Tom Reynolds says he has resigned to prevent Democrats from making his role in the Mark Foley case an issue in Reynolds' reelection campaign. But ABC News, citing Capitol Hill sources, says that Kirk Fordham's resignation wasn't exactly voluntary -- that House Speaker Dennis Hastert demanded that Fordham resign as part of a plan to "scapegoat" him and divert attention from questions swirling around the Republican House leadership.

What did Fordham do wrong? There seems to be no dispute that he tried to strike a deal with ABC to keep Foley's explicit IM exchanges out of the public eye. The Washington Post has reported that piece of the story previously, and ABC producer Maddy Sauer has now confirmed it. Fordham "said we could have the exclusive on [Foley's] resignation if we did not run direct quotes from the instant messages," Sauer says.

Beyond that, there's a lot of finger-pointing and disagreement, all from within the ranks of the GOP. We know that Fordham worked last week with Foley, for whom he previously served as chief of staff, to help him try to navigate his way through the page scandal. How did that come to happen? As we reported earlier today, Reynolds says he never gave Fordham "permission to have any conversations that he's had at any time with Mark Foley, either as his friend or as his former employer." Fordham, on the other hand, has said that he told Reynolds about Foley's explicit IM messages last week and that Reynolds told him to tell Foley that he'd have to resign.

There's more where that came from. ABC quotes a "Republican source" who says Fordham previously "begged" House leaders not to tell the full House Page Board about Foley's e-mail exchange with a 16-year-old former page. And indeed, House Page Board chairman John Shimkus refrained from telling either of two elected representatives -- one Democrat, one Republican -- who serve with him on the board, opening and closing his "investigation" having done little, if anything, other than talking to Foley and accepting his claim that his communications with the page were innocent.

People familiar with Fordham's side of the story insist, however, that Fordham has been pushing House leaders to do something about Foley's page problem for quite some time now. "They said Fordham had repeatedly warned Hastert's staff about Foley's 'problem' with pages, but little was done," ABC says. Maybe that's right, but it sure doesn't square with what Fordham was saying just yesterday. Insisting that he was "shellshocked" by Foley's IM messages, Fordham told the Associated Press: "This was someone I had worked for for 10 years. I had no inkling that this kind of blatantly reckless -- just obscene -- behavior was going on behind our backs."

Of course, the Fordham dust-up is only part of the Republicans' circular firing squad, and it may not even be the biggest one. Earlier today, House Majority Whip Roy Blunt said that he would have handled things differently if he had received word about Foley's messages to the 16-year-old former page -- even if the page's parents didn't want the matter pursued. "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."

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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