WASHINGTON – A former senior aide to disgraced ex-Congressman Mark Foley claimed Wednesday that he alerted House Speaker Dennis Hastert's aides three years ago to his boss's questionable conduct with teenage pages, and asked them there to intervene — the earliest known alert to the GOP leadership.
Kirk Fordham, who resigned Wednesday as chief of staff to Rep. Thomas Reynolds, R-N.Y., told The Associated Press that when he learned of Foley's inappropriate behavior toward pages, he had "more than one conversation with senior staff at the highest level of the House of Representatives asking them to intervene."
Fordham said the conversations took place long before the scandal broke, and at least two years earlier than members of the House GOP leadership have acknowledged. Fordham spoke to the AP after a news report quoted unidentified GOP sources as insinuating that he had intervened on behalf of Foley to prevent an inquiry into Foley's conduct.
"This is categorically false," Fordham said. "At no point ever did I ask anyone to block any inquiries into Foley's actions or behavior."
He added that the aides he spoke with in Hastert's office still work there, but he declined to name them.
Hastert Chief of Staff Scott Palmer flat out denied Fordham's allegations.
"What Kirk said, did not happen," Palmer said.
Hastert spokesman Ron Bonjean refused to comment on the Fordham revelations.
"This matter has been referred to the Standards Committee and we fully expect that the bipartisan panel will do what it needs to do to investigate this matter and protect the integrity of the House," Bonjean said, referring to the House ethics committee.
Earlier, Kentucky Republican Rep. Ron Lewis canceled a campaign fundraising event with Hastert. Lewis said he wants to know the facts behind a scandal that has roiled Republicans since last week.
"I'm taking the speaker's words at face value," Lewis said in an interview. "I have no reason to doubt him. But until this is cleared up, I want to know the facts.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi called the conflicting reports troubling and said the actors involved must testify under oath before the ethics panel.
"Mr. Fordham's statement is even more evidence that Republican leaders chose to put partisan politics above protecting the children in their trust," Pelosi said. "Today's revelation begs the questions: Why did Speaker Hastert, Congressman Reynolds and other Republican leaders continue to support Mark Foley after they knew about his horrific behavior? And why did Republican leaders enlist Mark Foley's support in Republican efforts to stay in power?"
Fordham, a longtime Capitol Hill aide, said he would fully disclose to the FBI and the House ethics committee "any and all meetings and phone calls" regarding Foley's behavior that he had with senior staffers in the House leadership.
"The fact is even prior to the existence of the Foley e-mail exchanges I had more than one conversation with senior staff at the highest level of the House of Representatives asking them to intervene when I was informed of Mr. Foley's inappropriate behavior," Fordham said.
In resigning Wednesday, Fordham became the first casualty in the dispute over Hastert's handling of the Foley affair.
Fordham served for 10 years as Foley's chief of staff. He said Tuesday that he confronted the congressman last Friday after learning the details of some of the instant messages sent from Foley to a teenage male page. When Foley said the reports probably were accurate, Fordham told him he had to quit Congress and helped Foley craft the resignation letter.
Reynolds, however, also caught flak for warning Foley a year ago to stop his communications with pages after he learned of the overly friendly e-mails to a 16-year-old male page following a brief inquiry by Fordham.
Republicans allowed Foley to stay on as co-chairman of the Congressional Missing and Exploited Children's Caucus, and a month later, Reynolds, who chairs the committee in charge of electing Republicans to Congress, personally urged Foley to seek re-election.
In a statement Wednesday, Fordham said he was quitting to stop the attacks on Reynolds, who is seeking re-election.
"It is clear the Democrats are intent on making me a political issue in my boss's race, and I will not let them do so," Fordham said, adding that he "never attempted to prevent any inquiries or investigation of Foley's conduct by House officials or any other authorities."
"I want it to be perfectly clear that I never attempted to prevent any inquiries or investigation of Foley's conduct by House officials or any other authorities," he said.
Meanwhile, acting U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia Jeff Taylor wrote in a letter to the House Counsel that he wants to make sure Foley's computers, hard drives, electronic files and documents are secured in case they are needed in a criminal probe.
It is not immediately clear when the letter was sent or specifically to whom, but it appears to be a pre-emptive measure to avoid ruffling feathers the way the FBI did when it searched Rep. William Jefferson's office earlier this year.
Justice Department spokeswoman Tasia Scolinos stressed that the investigation is still preliminary, though such letters frequently precede search warrants and subpoenas.
FBI agents are also interviewing participants in the House page program, said a law enforcement official who spoke on condition of anonymity. The official declined to say whether the interviews were limited to current pages or included former pages.
Foley, who resigned last week after being questioned by the press about e-mails and IM exchanges with two teenage male pages, has not been charged with a crime.
Nonetheless, Republicans say they are worried the expanding fallout from the scandal could hurt the party's chances in the Nov. 7 midterm election.
"People are very, very concerned," Rep. Ray LaHood, an Illinois Republican, told a cable news channel on Tuesday night. "I think there are going to be more disclosures."
Days after the news broke, former congressional page Tyson Vivyan revealed that he, too, experienced inappropriate advances from Foley, which he then discussed with the FBI.
"I never pursued or welcomed anything sexual in nature from the congressman," Vivyan told FOX News. "My important thing was trying to maintain and build platonic, strong contacts in Washington, D.C., for my future, just like any good politically savvy individual would. Unfortunately, the congressman apparently didn't have the same ideas in mind."
The latest allegations and rumors swirling around Washington that more pages could come forward charging members of Congress with inappropriate behavior has Republican leaders scrambling to defuse a potential election-year bombshell.
Rep. Rodney Alexander, R-La., said he notified the parents of one page last November that Foley had sent the boy, whom Alexander had sponsored to work on Capitol Hill, an e-mail requesting a picture and asking for his birth date.
Alexander said the parents already were informed of the correspondence, and they asked the House to leadership stop the e-mails, but not to show them to anyone else for fear of embarrassing and exposing their son in the media.
But one House leader, Majority Whip Roy Blunt, R-Mo, said he would have handled the entire matter differently, had he known about 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," Blunt said. "You absolutely can't decide not to look into activities because one individual's parents don't want you to."
The e-mails are not the same reading materials as the sexually explicit computer instant messages passed between Foley and another underage male page in 2003.
Alexander said that based on the e-mails alone, no one, including the FBI and several news outlets, had come to the conclusion that Foley had done something for which he should be expelled. Alexander also questioned why the news media waited "until a month before the election, perhaps exposing other young people to those aggressive e-mails," before reporting the more explicit IMs.
Executives at ABC News, which first reported the initial online exchanges from Foley that were questionable but not graphic, said sexually explicit messages reported last Friday were provided by former pages after its initial report Thursday. ABC News said Tuesday it had obtained additional instant messages.
"Can I have a good kiss goodnight?" Foley was said to have asked in one message. A boy responded with cyber symbols and "kiss."
Foley attorney David Roth told reporters late Tuesday that the former representative was molested between the ages 13 and 15 by a clergyman. Roth said Foley also wants Americans to know that he is a gay man. The former lawmaker was admitted on Saturday night to a mental health facility, where he will remain for at least 30 days.
He "attributes this to his inappropriate IMs and text messages, but does not make any excuses for them," Roth said.
The House ethics committee will examine the Foley matter at a hearing Thursday. The House voted last Friday to direct the ethics panel to inquire into the matter. Foley resigned abruptly on Friday after being confronted with the 2003 instant message exchanges.
Still, with the November midterm election in five weeks and Foley's name still on the ballot, Hastert acknowledged that the district would be difficult to keep, even if people know that a vote for Foley would amount to a placeholder vote for his replacement, Florida state House representative Joe Negron.
Republican pollsters have told FOX News that the scandal has sent GOP poll numbers down by double digits in the most competitive races, and the effect on the midterm elections could be devastating.
As the speaker fights accusations that he was neglectful, some conservative groups have rallied around him. The Christian Coalition of America said it stands behind Hastert's investigation.
The conservative group Focus on the Family said leaders should have responded more aggressively to Foley's attempt to solicit a picture from the 16-year-old page in the e-mail, but hindsight is 20-20.
"We disagree with that, those calls are way overblown. Facts are still coming out. ... There were acts of omission," said Focus on the Family's Tom Minnery.
But ConservativeHQ.com chairman Richard A. Viguerie called for Hastert to step down. "The fact that they just walked away from this, it sounds like they were trying to protect one of their own members rather than these young boys," Viguerie said on FOX News.
Several Republican lawmakers appear to be standing with Hastert against the attacks. Arizona Republican Rep. John Shadegg circulated a "Dear Colleague" letter in support of Hastert, saying calls for the speaker to resign were "unwarranted and fundamentally unfair."
Reps. Mike Pence of Indiana and Joe Pitts of Pennsylvania said Hastert is a man of integrity, but they urged the leadership to adopt a zero-tolerance policy for any inappropriate interaction between House members and pages.
Alexander said calls for Hastert's resignation are ridiculous.
"Speaker Hastert is a good man, he's a good leader. And I think he would personally break the neck of anybody that he thought was trying to sexually abuse a young man or a woman," Alexander told FOX News. "And he only knew about the e-mails that we knew about."
When asked Tuesday by conservative radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh whether he would quit his post, Hastert said: "I'm not going to do that."
Speaking on the campaign trail, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said he wanted the Senate to get into the matter by forming a panel to investigate how the House handled the affair.
"We need to move forward quickly and we need to reach conclusions and recommendations about who is responsible," McCain said during a campaign speech for Sen. Lincoln Chafee in Rhode Island. "I think it needs to be addressed by people who are credible."
House Democrats also are taking the opportunity to pound their GOP colleagues. Rep. John Murtha of Pennsylvania said "it is essential" that Republicans hold responsible any members who knew about the inappropriate e-mails but tried to cover up the situation.
"We need to know if other pages were put in jeopardy because the leadership didn't act sooner," Murtha said.
Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., said whether the speaker quits or not, the GOP is still in trouble.
"If the speaker resigns it means he was derelict in his duty, and if he doesn't resign, this will last right up to the election," Rangel told FOX News, adding that he thinks the decision to not take more aggressive action against Foley was purely political.
"They would have done the right thing had they had enough time to replace the guy," he said of the leadership. "They should've done it earlier, but the fact is they did not have the WABC report. But at the time they found out, they were actually soliciting him not to quit because it was too late to replace him."
FOX News' Major Garrett, Megyn Kendall and Ian McCaleb and The Associated Press contributed to this report.