WASHINGTON - The House Ethics committee opened an investigation Thursday into the chain of events leading to the explosive page scandal that has rocked the Capitol for a week. The Republican and Democratic leaders of the committee told reporters they will subpoena documents and witnesses if necessary to determine how House members and employees handled information they received about correspondence between former Florida Congressman Mark Foley and a former page. They said they also would try to determine whether there were any other inappropriate actions by other House officials with teen pages. “Simply put, the American people and especially the parents of all current and former pages are entitled to know how this situation was handled - and we are determined to answer their questions,” said committee chairman Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash. Rep. Howard Berman, of California, the top Democrat on the panel, said, “we are looking at weeks, not months” to conduct the investigation. Hastings and Berman are heading a subcommittee that includes one other Republican and Democrat that will do the investigative work. That subcommittee began meeting Thursday and authorized 48 subpoenas for documents and testimony. Rep. Tom Cole, R-Moore, a member of the full ethics committee, attended the meeting Thursday morning that set the scope of the probe. Cole said in an interview there was no partisan bickering among the five Republicans and five Democrats on the panel. “The last thing anybody wants to do - or wants to appear to do - is score partisan political points,” Cole said. “I think this is going to be a real broad and thorough look at the page system, and the chips will fall where they may.” Republican House Speaker Dennis Hastert held a news conference in his Illinois district Thursday, saying he was “sorry that this happened.” “The bottom line is, I am taking responsibility for it because ultimately the buck stops here,” the speaker said. Hastert said he planned to run for speaker again next month if Republicans maintain their majority - an uncertain prospect even before the Foley scandal broke last week, which forced the disgraced member to abruptly resign. Some conservatives outside the House have called for Hastert to step down. Some House Republican leaders also have seemed to question whether Hastert did enough to address the matter when first told that a former page from Louisiana was uncomfortable with e-mails that Foley had sent him. Those e-mails did not contain the kind of explicit sexual content that was part of other electronic messages obtained and posted online by ABC News. Asked Thursday whether the ethics committee will seek testimony from former pages who had “instant message” correspondence with Foley, Hastings and Cole said they couldn’t disclose that information. “Many of the individuals we plan to talk to are members, offices and staff of the House,” Hastings said. “For that reason, we sincerely hope most of the subpoenas we authorized today will prove unnecessary because we believe that most of those individuals share our desire to get quick and truthful answers to the questions being asked by so many Americans.” Hastert repeatedly has denied knowing about the explicit e-mails until last Friday. Foley’s former chief of staff, Kirk Fordham, who recently was working for another House member, told The Associated Press on Wednesday that he had warned staff members from Hastert’s office three years ago about Foley’s behavior toward pages and asked them to intervene. Hastert said Thursday that Fordham “also said just about three or four days ago that he worked for this guy for 10 years and he never did anything wrong. So there’s a little bit of difference in the testimony or what he said.”
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