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A congressman who is a key figure in the House page scandal conceded Friday that Republicans have mishandled the matter.
“I think there’s stuff that everybody would have done differently” in hindsight, said Rep. John Shimkus, R-Ill., after he testified for more than three hours before the House ethics committee. The panel is investigating former Rep. Mark Foley’s sexually tinged Internet communications with teenage pages over several years.
Shimkus chairs the board that oversees the House page program, and he intervened last fall to stop Foley from e-mailing a former congressional page who considered the contacts inappropriate. Shimkus said he voluntarily testified before the House investigators to help them uncover “who knew what, when and where.”
The Illinois Republican kept the two other House Page Board members, including the panel’s sole Democrat, in the dark when he confronted Foley last fall. He did so, he says, to follow the wishes of the boy’s parents, who wanted the matter to remain private and wanted Foley to stop sending the boy overly friendly e-mails.
Democrats have criticized Shimkus for not informing Rep. Dale Kildee, D-Mich., a longtime member of the Page Board, after learning of the incident involving Foley.
Shimkus told reporters afterward that, in retrospect, he wishes he had handled the episode differently.
“Having 20/20 hindsight, a lot of things would have been done differently,” he said.
A four-member ethics investigating panel, operating in closed session, wrapped up the first week of its inquiry. It has been hearing witnesses with knowledge of how Republicans handled several alarms raised about Foley’s conduct over the past five years. The Florida Republican resigned Sept. 29 after he was confronted with other, more sexually explicit instant messages sent to other former male pages, beyond the episode Shimkus testified about.
Shimkus said he had no earlier indication of problems involving Foley and pages.
But another Republican House member, Rep. Jim Kolbe of Arizona, has said that a former page contacted his office in 2001 or 2002 to report receiving e-mails from Foley that made him uncomfortable.
Separately, federal prosecutors in Arizona have opened a preliminary investigation into an unspecified allegation related to a camping trip that Kolbe took with two former pages and others in 1996, a law enforcement official said. Kolbe spokeswoman Korenna Cline said, “There is absolutely no basis and no truth to any inappropriate behavior” on Kolbe’s part.
Kolbe is the only openly gay Republican in the House.
The ethics committee is also investigating whether the disgraced Florida Republican tried to enter the page dorm while drunk several years ago.
It was sexually explicit instant messages sent in 2003 to a former page that prompted Foley to resign after being confronted with them by ABC News.
No House member has claimed any advance knowledge of those explicit messages. It was the milder e-mails to a former page from Louisiana that prompted Shimkus, along with then-Clerk of the House Jeff Trandahl, to confronted Foley about his behavior in the fall of 2005.
Shimkus has said it was the first time he learned Foley was too friendly with pages.
“When the clerk showed me the excepts of the e-mail … that this family was concerned of, that was the first time that I had any indication that I needed to address Congressman Foley,” Shimkus said.
Next week, the ethics panel is expected to hear from Rep. Rodney Alexander, R-La., whose office reported the “over-friendly” e-mails to staff aides to House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., last fall. And Majority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, also has been summoned to appear before the panel.
Boehner and House GOP campaign chairman Tom Reynolds, R-N.Y., discussed the Foley matter with Alexander earlier this year. Alexander has told The Associated Press that he raised the Foley e-mails with Boehner after being contacted by the news media about them.
Both Boehner and Reynolds say they raised the issue with Hastert, but the speaker says he doesn’t recall such conversations.
But Foley’s former top aide, Kirk Fordham, has told investigators that he told Hastert’s chief of staff, Scott Palmer, at least three years ago of problems regarding Foley and pages _ including the alleged page dorm incident.
Fordham’s extensive knowledge of Foley’s actions includes the Florida Republican’s attempt to enter the page dorm while drunk several years ago _ one of the events that triggered alarms raised by Fordham with House officials, according to one source familiar with Fordham’s actions and knowledge.
Palmer strongly denies Fordham’s account, and the discrepancy is one of the major conflicts the committee must resolve.