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Sweet column:Foley scandal report rips Hastert, Shimkus, Hastert counsel

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The House ethics panel was harshly critical of how Illinois Republicans House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Rep. John Shimkus and Hastert staffers handled the Mark Foley page scandal allegations and various judgment calls they made along the way.

The panel, in a report issued Friday, concluded there was:

• • An overall pattern among many to remain "willfully ignorant" of Foley's problems. The report found "the weight of the evidence" supports a conclusion Hastert was told "at least in passing" about Foley's e-mails last spring -- though Hastert testified he didn't recall the conversations.

• • A total failure by all involved to recognize that the contents of the Foley e-mails that first surfaced were in and of themselves strong signals that something was wrong. No one did anything until Foley resigned after ABC News, which broke the original story about the suggestive e-mails, obtained Foley's sexually explicit instant messages.

Those initial e-mails "clearly provided a sufficient basis to at the very least confront Rep. Foley" and "demand an explanation for both the content of the e-mails and the reason for sending them," according to the report.

Rep. Judy Biggert (R-Ill.), a member of the ethics committee who was part of the investigative panel, said, "I think we found the truth."

Here are highlights of the investigation, seen through an Illinois lens:

After Foley resigned Sept. 29, Hastert wanted to confer with GOP leaders to "prepare a statement" about the Foley matter. The panel thought that effort to get their stories straight had the "effect of inhibiting the Investigative Subcommittee's ability to secure evidence from witnesses."

As the chairman of the House page board, he never told other board members of allegations against Foley. He went to talk to Foley -- to tell him to cut out contacts with pages -- after only seeing fragments of e-mails. He told me in an interview he never pushed to see more because the parents of the former page who got the e-mails objected.
The investigators found that the family never objected to sharing the e-mails with "appropriate House members or staff."

The panel determined that Shimkus should have informed the other board members and "should have demanded copies of all relevant e-mails or other documents," and that not doing so was "imprudent."

"At a minimum, Rep. Shimkus had an obligation to learn more facts regarding the e-mails before concluding that he could handle the matter himself," the report said.

Ted Van Der Meid
Van Der Meid is Hastert's counsel and director of floor operations and is on the board of North Park University in Chicago. He was told several times that Foley was giving "excessive attention" to pages that "could be perceived as inappropriate."
However, Van Der Meid told the panel he never passed along these concerns to anyone in the speaker's office. He said it was a "judgment call." He testified he was not asked to do anything, and that anyway, "I don't know what I would have done."

The panel found Van Der Meid "showed an inexplicable lack of interest" in the e-mails, especially since he knew questions had been raised earlier about Foley's interactions -- not sexual -- with pages.

Scott Palmer
Hastert chief of staff Scott Palmer, who has been with the speaker since the beginning of his political career, testified before the panel that he had no recollection of any conversations about Foley and incidents with pages with former Foley chief of staff Kirk Fordham.
The report concluded that Palmer knew. "The weight of the evidence supports a conclusion that Kirk Fordham talked to Scott Palmer about Fordham's concerns about Rep. Foley's conduct," the report said.

Dems' role
Hastert complained last fall that the Democrats leaked the memos. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is chaired by Rep. Rahm Emanuel. The panel's report said the communications director for the DCCC and for the House Democratic Caucus had the e-mails.

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Lynn Sweet

Lynn Sweet is a columnist and the Washington Bureau Chief for the Chicago Sun-Times.

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This page contains a single entry by Lynn Sweet published on December 10, 2006 7:35 AM.

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