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Page program chiefs discuss campout

Ariz. legislator's trip reviewed, says source in Congress

WASHINGTON -- Overseers of the House page program this week discussed a camping trip that Representative Jim Kolbe, an Arizona Republican, took with two former pages and others in 1996 -- an outing now under review by the Justice Department, a congressional source said yesterday.

The House Page Board, consisting of three lawmakers and two senior House officials, did not have any new information beyond recent news stories on the Kolbe trip. The source is familiar with the discussions but is not authorized to speak publicly on the matter.

The conference call on Monday involving the Kolbe trip indicated that the people responsible for the teenage page program are casting a wider net after revelations that former representative Mark Foley was sending overly friendly e-mails and sexually explicit instant messages to former male pages.

The meeting was first disclosed on Monday by the only Democrat on the Page Board, Representative Dale Kildee of Michigan, who declined to say which lawmakers were discussed.

Meanwhile, the House Ethics Committee yesterday continued investigating the Foley matter. Investigators, pressing ahead with closed-door interviews, questioned Paula Nowakowski, chief of staff to House majority leader John Boehner, an Ohio Republican .

Kolbe took the former pages as well as staff members and National Park Service officials on a Fourth of July rafting trip in the Grand Canyon in 1996, his spokeswoman Korenna Cline said last week.

Kolbe said in a statement that he had not been contacted by anyone about the camping trip. ``But if I am, I will fully cooperate with the appropriate authorities," he said.

A federal law enforcement official said last week an allegation related to the trip was referred to the US attorney's office in Phoenix. It was not immediately clear whether it concerned any contention of improper activity by the retiring Kolbe -- the only openly gay Republican in Congress.

The official described the inquiry as preliminary and as far narrower in scope than the federal investigation into Foley, a Florida Republican who resigned Sept. 29 after he was confronted with sexually explicit instant messages sent to former pages.

A second law enforcement official said the 1996 Kolbe trip may be too old to investigate as a criminal matter. Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity because of the ongoing investigation. A Justice Department spokeswoman declined to comment.

Cline said last week the rafting party included five current staffers, two former pages, and Kolbe's sister. Nothing inappropriate happened on the trip, she said. She did not know who the pages were or what year they worked for Kolbe, but she said they paid their own way.

Beth Kolbe, the congressman's younger sister, who was on the three-night trip, said that nothing inappropriate happened and that she had not heard of any concerns from anyone until the story of the camping trip appeared in the media.

In his remarks on Monday, Kildee -- who said he is unhappy that Republicans did not tell him about Foley's improper approaches -- added: ``It was about other allegations and I'd like to leave it at that. Let me just say, not about Mr. Foley. It's only been allegations."

The chairman of the Page Board is Representative John Shimkus, an Illinois Republican , who acknowledged freezing out Kildee and Representative Shelley Moore Capito, a West Virginia Republican , when he learned there were questions about Foley's conduct in the fall of 2005. Capito also has expressed concern that she was not informed, and her Democratic opponent has accused her of failing teenagers in the care of Congress .

Shimkus testified before the ethics committee last week, and told reporters he was following the wishes of the parents of a Louisiana page when he decided not to inform Capito and Kildee.

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