WASHINGTON – A top Republican testified Thursday before the ethics committee investigating a congressional sex scandal that continues to plague Republicans as elections approach, and indicated afterward that he repeated statements on when he told party leaders about the matter.
House Majority Leader John Boehner, the No. 2 Republican in the House of Representatives, would not say what specifically he told the committee behind closed doors. He has publicly quoted Speaker Dennis Hastert, the top House Republican, as telling him the complaint "had been taken care of."
That complaint concerns Republican Congressman Mark Foley's inappropriate electronic communications with teenage congressional assistants, called pages. Foley resigned last month after he was confronted with sexually explicit messages he sent to male former pages.
The scandal has damaged Republican prospects for retaining control of the House in the Nov. 7 elections, when all 435 House seats are up for a vote.
"I made myself clear on the record for the last three weeks, and I told the ethics committee today the same thing that I've told many of you," Boehner said.
Boehner also issued a written statement, saying, "The despicable conduct from Mark Foley outraged all members who have great respect for this institution. Had anyone known about it, we would have moved to expel him from our ranks immediately."
A top congressional aide, former House Clerk Jeff Trandahl, testified earlier Thursday but did not answer reporters' questions as he left the committee session. Trandahl's appearance was central to the case, since he shouldered day-to-day responsibility for the page program and had confronted Foley last fall about inappropriate e-mails to former pages.
At issue in the ethics committee investigation is how Hastert's office dealt with knowledge of Foley's behavior. Hastert has said he doesn't recall the conversation with Boehner.
In an internal report released by Hastert, his aides contend that they first learned about Foley's conduct in the fall of 2005, when they became aware of overly friendly e-mails to a former Louisiana page. However, Foley's former top aide, Kirk Fordham, said he told Hastert's chief of staff about Foley's conduct in 2002 or 2003.
Hastert has said he didn't learn about Foley in 2005 and didn't know about the problems until the scandal broke late last month. However, Boehner and another Republican leader have said that they told Hastert months earlier.
Trandahl's testimony could be damaging if he contradicted Hastert's account and said Republican leaders lacked the urgency required to protect the teenage pages. Hastert has fended off calls for his resignation and said he believes he and his staff acted properly.
Foley, 52, has said through his attorney that he is alcoholic, gay and had been molested as a boy by a "clergyman."
Meanwhile, a priest acknowledged he was naked in saunas with Foley decades ago when Foley was a boy in Florida but denied that the two had sex. The Rev. Anthony Mercieca, 69, spoke from his home on the Maltese island of Gozo after the Sarasota Herald-Tribune published a story describing several encounters in the 1960s that the priest said Foley might perceive as sexually inappropriate.