WASHINGTON – House Speaker Dennis Hastert said Tuesday anyone in his office found to have covered up any concerns over former Rep. Mark Foley's online exchanges with former teenage House pages will get the boot.
Meanwhile, Rep. Jim Kolbe, R-Ariz., released a statement Tuesday trying to clear up some of the details that have appeared in newspaper reports saying he had warned Foley about inappropriate contact with former pages.
Hastert said he doesn't at this time think anyone in his office has done anything wrong, though 20/20 hindsight shows that they all could have been more proactive in responding to rumors.
"They've handled it as well as they should," based on the information they had, Hastert told reporters attending an event in Aurora, Ill.
"But if there is a problem, if there was a cover-up, then we should find that out through the investigation process. They'll be under oath and we'll find out. If they did cover something up, then they should not continue to have their jobs," he said.
Foley resigned on Sept. 29 after being asked by a news network about e-mail conversations he had with a page who had since left the program. Afterward, more explicit instant messages emerged, and one former page said he and the congressman had a sexual encounter after he turned 21.
Foley has checked himself into an alcohol rehabilitation facility. His lawyer said he has never had any physical contact with minors.
The House ethics committee has taken up an investigation of the correspondence, and who knew what when. On Tuesday, the subcommittee empanelled to probe the matter sent a letter to all House members, asking for their participation in the investigation.
"It is the expectation of the investigative subcommittee that any members with information related to the matter under investigation will bring such information to the attention of the investigative subcommittee. Such information should include, but not be limited to, any information related in any way to communications or interactions between former Representative Mark Foley and any current or former participants in the House Page Program," the letter reads.
"In this regard, you should inquire of staff under your supervision as to relevant information in their possession. ... We also request that you contact current and former House pages sponsored by your office for the purpose of learning whether any of those individuals had any inappropriate communications or interactions with former Representative Foley or any other member of the House," the letter continues, adding that any information will be held in confidence.
Kirk Fordham, former chief of staff to Rep. Tom Reynolds, will meet with the ethics panel on Thursday. Fordham has said that he warned Hastert's office three years ago about concerns that Foley was contacting pages.
Since Foley's resignation, much of the attention has turned toward whether the House leadership did enough to protect the pages, many of whom were interviewed by the FBI after the story broke.
The story has taken a toll on the GOP. A CBS News-New York Times poll released Monday found that 46 percent of those polled said Hastert should step down over his handling of the Foley matter, while 26 percent said he should remain in his post.
On Tuesday, evangelist K.A. Paul met with Hastert and asked him to resign, saying the scandal has become a distraction. Hastert would not comment on the conversation, but has said previously he plans to be House speaker again next year.
Hastert did say that he did not know details of a complaint from a former page Kolbe had appointed. The complaint, filed in 2002, came while Kolbe was on the Page Board.
"He was on the Page Board. That was his sense, his job to do that, that confrontation. I don't know anything more about it. If there's something that was of a nature that should have been reported or brought forward, then he should have done that," Hastert said.
Kolbe, who is retiring this year after 11 terms in Congress, said the page had contacted him to tell him the e-mails he received from Foley made him uncomfortable. Kolbe said that he never saw the content of the messages and was not told whether they were of a sexual nature.
"It was my recommendation that this complaint be passed along to Rep. Foley's office and the clerk who supervised the page program. This was done promptly," Kolbe said.
"I did not have a personal conversation with Mr. Foley about the matter. I assume e-mail contact ceased since the former page never raised the issue again with my office. I believed then, and believe now, that this was the appropriate way to handle this incident given the information I had and the fact that the young man was no longer a page and not subject to the jurisdiction of the program," said Kolbe, who himself was a page for Sen. Barry Goldwater in 1958.
Kolbe said as a representative he has visited with pages in the Senate chamber to teach them about parliamentary procedures on the House floor, and has spoken with them after their experiences to help them with college recommendations and other programs like speaking at their graduations.
Hastert said as far as he knows, none of the pages involved with Foley were contacted by him while they were still in the page program. He added that he asked former FBI Director Louis Freeh to investigate how to improve disclosures and security for the pages, but House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi "rejected him for some reason."
Separately, the young man whose IM conversations with Foley were published by ABC News online met with federal investigators on Tuesday in Oklahoma City. Attorney Stephen Jones and Jordan Edmund, who was a page in 2001 and 2002, entered the U.S. attorney's office in midmorning, and emerged two and a half hours later.
"Jordan answered all of their questions," Jones said. "I'm not able to discuss the interview except to say that it occurred."
Jones said his client was not issued a subpoena and was not asked to return. Jones also plans to talk to House officials investigating the case.
Edmund's name became public last week after ABC News, which broke the story, inadvertently published his computer screen name and an Oklahoma-based blogger used the information to identify the former page.
Edmund, a Californian, has been living in Oklahoma City and working as a deputy campaign manager for the gubernatorial campaign of Rep. Ernest Istook, R-Okla., who is challenging incumbent Democrat Brad Henry.
Jones said last week that Edmund was willing to talk to the FBI and the House ethics committee. He also said Edmund "was a minor when the alleged events described in the media occurred," but "no physical involvement between" Edmund and Foley ever happened nor were the two ever alone together.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.