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Ex-clerk testifies in page probe

House ethics panel also hears from majority leader

WASHINGTON -- Two key congressional figures testified before a House ethics panel yesterday about their roles in the Mark Foley scandal, reportedly sticking to accounts indicating that Speaker Dennis Hastert or his top aides were alerted to concerns about the disgraced Florida lawmaker's behavior toward teenage pages before it became public.

The committee spent more than four hours questioning Jeff Trandahl, a central figure who has remained publicly silent about the affair. As House clerk from 1999 through last year, Trandahl oversaw the page program and dealt with several complaints about the actions of Foley, a Republican, who abruptly resigned his Florida seat on Sept. 29 as ABC News was reporting on sexually graphic electronic messages he exchanged with former pages.

Trandahl joined Representative John Shimkus, Republican of Illinois, chairman of the House page board, in quietly confronting Foley last fall about e-mails that the lawmaker had sent to a Louisiana boy, which the youth and his parents found troubling.

Hastert's office has said that two high-ranking aides knew about the meeting with Foley but did not tell the speaker or his chief of staff, Scott Palmer. The page board's other members, including a Democratic lawmaker, also were not told.

Trandahl did not speak with reporters yesterday as he left the ethics committee's office in the Capitol basement. His lawyer, Cono Namorato, said in a statement that Trandahl ``has cooperated fully with the investigation being conducted by the FBI" and the ethics committee, and ``stands ready to render additional assistance if needed."

A source who has spoken with Trandahl since the scandal broke said the former clerk indicated he had alerted Hastert's staff in recent years to concerns that Foley was showing inappropriate attention to teenage pages. The source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said he had no reason to think Trandahl would give a different version to the FBI or the House ethics subcommittee. Trandahl's main contact on Hastert's staff appeared to be counsel Ted Van Der Meid, the source said.

Hastert spokesman Ron Bonjean, asked to respond to the source's comments, said the panel ``is investigating this matter, and we are confident in its ability to determine the real facts."

``The speaker has said that any person who is found guilty of improper conduct involving sexual contact or communication with a page should immediately resign, be fired, or be subjected to a vote of expulsion," Bonjean said.

Also yesterday, House Majority Leader John Boehner, Republican of Ohio, became the highest-ranking lawmaker to testify. Speaking to reporters after about an hour of questioning, he said, ``I told the committee the same thing that I have told many of you."

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