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Panel questions page supervisors

House committee looks for possible Foley complaints

WASHINGTON -- House officials who directly supervise teenage congressional pages were questioned yesterday by ethics committee investigators probing the handling of former representative Mark Foley's inappropriate messages to pages.

The internal investigators spoke privately with Peggy Sampson, who supervises House pages sponsored by Republican lawmakers, and her Democratic counterpart, Wren Ivester.

The high school students attend classes at Congress' page school and perform errands for lawmakers.

Investigators hope to learn what the youngsters might have told the supervisors about Foley, Republican of Florida, and whether they reported any inappropriate conduct to higher House officials.

There has been no evidence that any Democratic lawmaker or employee knew about Foley's conduct.

Investigators today planned to question Foley's former chief of staff, Kirk Fordham. He says he took action in 2002 or 2003 when he learned of his boss' inappropriate approaches to pages.

Fordham has emerged as a key figure because he said he brought the allegations to Speaker J. Dennis Hastert's chief of staff, Scott Palmer. Fordham has said he subsequently learned that Palmer spoke with Foley.

Palmer has denied speaking with Fordham at that time, and Hastert's office said the speaker's staff first learned about Foley's conduct in the fall of 2005.

An internal review by Hastert's office said the information passed on last fall concerned Foley's overly friendly -- but not sexually explicit -- computer messages to a former page from Louisiana.

Hastert, Republican of Illinois, said he did not learn of Foley's conduct until several weeks ago, at the end of September.

If the speaker's story is correct, his staff will have to explain to investigators why they did not inform the speaker what they knew last fall.

Hastert said he believes his staff acted appropriately when the information was passed on to the House clerk and Representative John Shimkus, Republican of Illinois, the chairman of the board that oversees the page program. Shimkus and the clerk met with Foley and made it clear he should cease communication with the former page to avoid even the appearance of impropriety.

Hastert said this week that if he finds that anyone on his staff covered up the problem, he or she would be fired.

President Bush yesterday reiterated his confidence in Hastert's handling of the Foley matter.

Yesterday at a White House news conference, Bush said Hastert's ``strong statements have made it clear to not only the party members, but to the country, that he wants to find out the facts."

``I mean, this is disgusting behavior when a member of Congress betrays the trust of the Congress and a family that sent a young page up to serve in the Congress," he added.

The president called the speaker ``very credible as far as I'm concerned," and said Hastert has ``done a fine job as speaker."

Bush planned to speak at a fund-raiser in Chicago today that Hastert was hosting to help two Illinois Republicans in tough races.

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