Hooking the big fish in Foleygate?

Dennis Hastert testifies before the House Ethics Committee.

Published October 24, 2006 11:51PM (EDT)

We don't know what, if anything, the House Ethics Committee will have to say for itself by Nov. 7, but it's certainly moving with some dispatch on the Mark Foley investigation. Dennis Hastert's chief of staff spent some quality time with the committee Monday, and Hastert himself testified for about three hours today.

What does it all mean? We're reading tea leaves like everyone else, but it sure seems like the committee is following a methodical path aimed at figuring out what Hastert and his staff knew and when it was that they knew it.

The committee heard early on from Kirk Fordham, the former aide to both Foley and National Republican Congressional Committee chairman Tom Reynolds, who says he warned Hastert's staff -- including chief of staff Scott Palmer -- about Foley's problems several years ago. Former House Clerk Jeff Trandahl went before the committee last week. On Monday, the committee reached the top of the staff progression, quizzing Palmer for more than six hours, longer than anyone else called before the committee. Palmer left the Capitol without speaking to reporters. He has offered a seems-unequivocal-but-isn't statement before -- "what Kirk Fordham said didn't happen" -- and his lawyer didn't seem too interested in expanding on it Monday. He told reporters only that Palmer's testimony was "consistent with the position he's taken all along."

On the member side, the committee heard last week from House Majority Leader John Boehner, who has said at various times that he told Hastert in the spring about Foley's e-mail contact with a 16-year-old former page, that he can't remember whether he told Hastert about the e-mails, and that he told Hastert about the e-mails and that Hastert told him the issue had been resolved. Leaving the committee room last week, Boehner said: "I've made clear on the record what I knew and when I knew it and what I said. I told the committee the same thing." Reynolds, who has said he talked with Hastert about the Foley problem early this year, testified before the committee this morning. He declined to discuss the substance of his testimony once he was done, saying that the committee had asked him not to do so.

Then it was Hastert's turn. The speaker has been all over the map as to what he knew when. His office initially suggested that he had no clue about Foley's problems until around the time they hit the press in late September; later, Hastert said that it's possible that he heard about the e-mails earlier but that he just couldn't remember. We have no idea what Ethics Committee members believe, nor do we know which version of events Hastert may have laid out for them today. Hastert didn't talk with reporters about his testimony. Instead, he tried, once again, to shift blame for Foleygate to the Democrats, saying that he hoped the committee would move quickly to determine "who knew" -- and when -- about the more sexually explicit instant messages that ultimately forced Foley to resign from the House.

By Tim Grieve

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

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