Dennis Hastert's interesting day

The speaker is the target of presidential love in Illinois, sworn testimony in Washington.

Published October 13, 2006 12:54PM (EDT)

While George W. Bush was practicing his love for Dennis Hastert in Illinois Thursday, former Mark Foley and Tom Reynolds aide Kirk Fordham was telling members of the House Ethics Committee in Washington that Hastert and his top aide have been lying about their roles in the House page scandal.

Bush said Hastert is a man who "just gets the job done." Fordham said, under oath, what he has said before: that he told Hastert's chief of staff and housemate, Scott Palmer, about Foley's problem with pages in 2003 and that Palmer subsequently told him that he'd met with Foley and briefed Hastert on the situation. According to one account -- provided to the New York Times by a source "sympathetic" to him -- Fordham decided to approach Palmer about Foley's page problem in 2003 after hearing that the congressman had turned up, apparently drunk, after hours at the Capitol Hill dormitory where pages live.

Hastert has said that he knew nothing of Foley's problems until -- well, until late last month, when the story began to hit the press, or until the spring, when Reynolds says he told the speaker. Hastert has gone back and forth and back again on whether Reynolds told him about Foley's problems as part of a list of issues that might ultimately hurt Republican campaigns.

Palmer, meanwhile, has said only that "what Kirk Fordham said did not happen." That sounds pretty unequivocal. But as Josh Marshall notes, Palmer's statement is actually susceptible to all sorts of interpretations. "If you want to get squirrelly about [it], that might simply mean that it didn't happen in precisely the way Fordham said it," Marshall explains. "Maybe Fordham says they spoke in person when Fordham remembers them speaking on the phone. In other words, it may really be a classic non-denial denial."

Maybe we'll learn more when Palmer goes before the Ethics Committee. Today, Rep. John Shimkus gets his turn in the Capitol basement. The head of the House Page Board has said that it's "ludicrous" to expect him to have done more than he did when he learned that Foley had been sending "overfriendly" e-mails to a 16-year-old former House page, but he has told conflicting stories about what, in fact, he did do. In an initial statement, he said he "ordered" Foley in the fall to break off contact with the 16-year-old former page and "advised" him to be "mindful" of his contact with other pages. Subsequently, Shimkus said in an interview that he'd told Foley to stay away from all of the pages.

We'll be interested to see if Shimkus' House colleagues put him under oath today -- and which version of his story he'll decide to tell if they do.

By Tim Grieve

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

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