Hastert, Reynolds Appear Before House Ethics Panel

Two weeks before Election Day, two of the most powerful Republicans spent much of Tuesday behind closed doors on Capitol Hill telling the House ethics committee what they knew about ex-Rep. Mark Foley's online exchanges with teen pages, and when they knew it.

House Speaker Dennis Hastert entered the committee room around 1:30 p.m. EST, accompanied by two attorneys. He left around 4:10 p.m.

"I answered all the questions they asked to the best of my ability. I also said that they needed to move quickly to get to the bottom of this issue, including who knew about the sexually explicit messages and when they knew about it, so they needed to make sure that they asked all the questions of everybody," Hastert said as he left.

Hastert's appearance followed that of Rep. Tom Reynolds, R-NY, the Republicans' chief campaign strategist who also is locked in a tough political fight of his own.

Reynolds' nearly half-day of testimony was sure to be an unwelcome distraction not only from his own hotly contested race but from the tasks needed to help other candidates retain Republican control of the House.

Reynolds entered the committee room around 9:30 a.m. EDT, took a short break after 11 a.m., and left the congressional building around 12:45 p.m.

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Reynolds and Hastert seem to be at odds over who knew what and when about Foley's conduct toward pages, which now appears to date back at least as early as 2000.

Most of the disputed facts relate to when Hastert was made aware of the Florida Republican's conversations with a then 16-year-old page from Louisiana. Reynolds has said he warned Hastert about Foley last spring, though he never saw sexually explicit instant message exchanges with other pages.

Hastert has said he doesn't remember the conversation with Reynolds nor a discussion with Majority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio. Boehner said he spoke with Hastert, who told him the page's complaint "had been taken care of."

Leaving Capitol Hill, Reynolds told reporters he was "happy to voluntarily do my part to assist in their inquiry and answer any questions they had."

He added to FOX News that the GOP is continuing to work on keeping its majority in the House. "We'll continue to work for two full weeks until the election bell rings on Tuesday night," he said.

The committee appears to want to finish all its major interviews this week, but has yet to speak with Rep. Jim Kolbe, R-Ariz., or Hastert counselor Ted Van Der Meid, both of whom are key figures in the probe. Hastert Deputy Chief of Staff Mike Stokke followed the speaker in testifying.

Stokke figures prominently into the speaker's office's handling of the original "overly friendly" e-mails sent to Rep. Rodney Alexander, R-Ala., in a complaint about Foley from the parents of the page.

According to an internal report produced by the speaker's office and released several days after Foley resigned, Stokke never read the content of the emails. In fact, the report says Stokke passed the matter to Van Der Meid.

Hastert Chief of Staff Scott Palmer did speak to the committee on Monday for more than six hours. He denies that he was warned about Foley in 2002 and 2003, a contradiction from remarks by former Foley Chief of Staff Kirk Fordham, who said he spoke with Palmer at least three years ago.

"What Kirk Fordham said did not happen," Palmer said weeks ago in his lone public statement on the matter. Palmer's lawyer, Scott Fredericksen, said Monday his client hasn't changed his version of events.

Fredericksen said the testimony was "consistent with the position he's taken all along."

Campaigning Monday for GOP candidate David Davis in Tennessee, Hastert confirmed he was scheduled to testify before the committee.

"What Mark Foley did was wrong. It was ethically wrong. It's a shame. It's actually disgusting," Hastert told reporters after a campaign rally in Johnson City, Tenn.

Foley resigned from Congress on Sept. 29 and immediately entered an alcohol rehabilitation facility.

To many, the Foley scandal is the October surprise that Republicans would have liked to have avoided. Hastert has faced calls for his resignation, and several lawmakers close to the episode have taken hits for being too lax with Foley.

Hastert argues his aides acted properly in response to Alexander. Hastert said his staff notified the chief clerk, who along with Rep. John Shimkus, R-Ill., the chairman of the House board overseeing the page program, confronted Foley and told him to stop contacting the boy.

Hastert said he didn't learn about Foley until late this September, when the scandal became public and Foley left Congress.

The speaker has vowed to fire any of his aides if they covered up knowledge of Foley's behavior.

FOX News' Jim Mills and Molly Hooper and The Associated Press contributed to this report.