Hasert: 'The Buck Stops Here"

(CBS/AP) Dennis Hastert took responsibility for the unfolding page sex scandal Thursday but vowed to stay on as speaker of the House, as the House ethics committee announced an investigation into improper conduct between lawmakers and teenage pages.

"Ultimately the buck stops here," Hastert told a news conference in his home district in Illinois.

Hastert asked the ethics panel to consider new rules so that anyone making inappropriate contact with pages be disciplined.

Earlier Thursday, Hastert announced that a tip line had been activated for people to call if they have information any problems with the page program. The number is 866-348-0481.

Meanwhile, the ethics committee announced it had voted to set up a subcommittee to look into the scandal over Rep. Mark Foley's come-ons to teenage congressional pages and accusations — even by some Republicans — that House leaders failed to protect the teens.

The committee prepared four dozen subpoenas for documents and testimony in the scandal that has imperiled Republican prospects in next month's elections.

Asked if Hastert was among those subpoenaed, the committee's chairman, Rep. Doc Hastings, would not comment.

Hastings, R-Wash., said the investigation "will go wherever our evidence leads us."

CBS News correspondent Bob Fuss reports the committee has no authority over Foley, since he's resigned from Congress. So the investigation will only focus on current members, officers and staff of the house. In other words, who knew about Foley, what was done about him and was there a cover-up.

Hastert tried to draw a contrast with Democrats in past scandals, the official said, asserting that the speaker forced Foley's resignation as soon as he became aware of his contacts with young pages.

A former House aide said Wednesday that he alerted the speaker's staff more than three years ago that Foley's conduct was a problem.

The swift-moving developments came as a furor mounted over the revelations about Foley and his resignation last Friday. Negative fallout for Republicans struggling to keep control of Congress was apparent in the latest AP-Ipsos poll, conducted this week after the Foley revelations surfaced.

About half of likely voters said recent disclosures of corruption and scandal in Congress will be very or extremely important in their vote next month, and Democrats enjoyed a nearly 2-to-1 advantage as the party better able to fight corruption.

Hastert asserted Wednesday that any Republicans urging his ouster were playing into the hands of Democrats and blamed his problems on the media and Democratic operatives, even suggesting former President Clinton might somehow be involved.

"All I know is what I hear and what I see," he said in an interview with the Chicago Tribune on the eve of the ethics meeting. "I saw Bill Clinton's adviser, Richard Morris, was saying these guys knew about this all along, If somebody had this info, when they had it, we could have dealt with it then."

In fact, Morris, who has advised both parties, offered no independent knowledge of Democrats being aware of the Foley communications before they came out. He said on Fox News that an unidentified reporter told him a Democratic leader had known about the matter.

Hastert said "people funded by George Soros," a liberal billionaire who has plowed millions into this and other election campaigns, want to see the scandal blow up. And he warned that when the GOP "base finds out who's feeding this monster, they're not going to be happy."

Some leading Republicans have publicly blamed Hastert for failing to take action after he was warned about the messages. And a former Foley aide said he told Republican leaders about the Florida congressman's conduct years earlier than they have acknowledged.

With Republicans concerned about maintaining their congressional majority in the elections, support for Hastert was ebbing. Republican officials said at least a few disgruntled members of the GOP rank and file had discussed whether to call on the speaker to step aside. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity, citing the sensitivity of the issue.

And there were still more revelations in the Foley scandal, reports CBS News correspondent Sharyl Attkisson, including an official request by a leading Republican to investigate reports regarding Foley drinking outside the House page dorms.

The letter from House Majority Leader John Boehner piles on to the growing scandal over Foley and his penchant for getting close and personal with teenage pages.

Boehner asked the Clerk of the House to investigate reports Foley "may have been seen intoxicated at night outside the U.S. House of Representatives Page Dormitory, possibly attempting to gain entry to the building."

The letter said the incident "may have occurred in years past."

In Atlanta, former page Tyson Vivyan, now 26, told AP he received sexually suggestive computer messages in 1997, years before the communications exposed last week, from an anonymous sender who turned out to be Foley.

Vivyan said he visited Foley's brownstone at the congressman's invitation, bringing another page with him because he did not want to go alone. They had pizza and soft drinks, and nothing sexual happened, he said.

Rep. John. J. Duncan, R-Tenn., had sponsored Vivyan as a page. His deputy chief of staff, Don Walker, said Thursday his office had heard nothing of Vivyan's contact with Foley until Monday. "As soon as we learned of it we turned it over to the authorities." Vivyan said the FBI interviewed him this week.

Foley's attorney, David Roth, declined to comment Thursday on the allegations from the former page.

The Justice Department earlier this week ordered House officials to preserve all records related to Foley's electronic correspondence with teenagers. The request for record preservation is often followed by search warrants and subpoenas, and signal that investigators are moving closer to a criminal investigation.

Foley, 52, stepped down after he was confronted with sexually explicit electronic messages he had sent teenage male pages. He has since entered an alcohol rehabilitation facility at an undisclosed location. Through his lawyer, he has said he is gay but denied any sexual contact with minors.

©MMVI, CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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