WASHINGTON (AP) – House Speaker Dennis Hastert’s political support showed signs of cracking yesterday as Republicans fled an election-year scandal spawned by steamy computer messages from disgraced Rep. Mark Foley to teenage male pages.
At the same time, a congressional aide who last week urged Foley to quit said in an Associated Press interview he first warned Hastert’s aides more than three years ago about Foley’s worrisome conduct toward pages. That was long before GOP leaders acknowledged hearing of it.
The aide, Kirk Fordham, said he had “more than one conversation with senior staff at the highest level of the House of Representatives asking them to intervene” at the time.
He made his comments as Rep. Roy Blunt of Missouri, third-ranking leader, pointedly told reporters he would have handled the matter differently than Hastert, had he known of it.
“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,” said Blunt, who was acting majority leader at the time Hastert was told of overly friendly e-mails from Foley to one page. “You absolutely can’t decide not to look into activities because one individual’s parents don’t want you to.”
Rep. Ron Lewis of Kentucky, in a tougher-than-expected re-election race, abruptly canceled an invitation for Hastert to join him at a fundraiser next week.
“I’m taking the speaker’s words at face value,” Lewis told the AP. “I have no reason to doubt him. But until this is cleared up, I want to know the facts. If anyone in our leadership has done anything wrong, then I will be the first in line to condemn it.”
Ron Bonjean, Hastert’s spokesman, declined to comment on the claim made by Fordham, who resigned during the day.