The Republican Speaker of the House of Representatives has pledged to fire anyone on his staff who may have tried to cover up improper Internet contacts between a former Republican congressman, Mark Foley, and congressional pages. The latest statement by Dennis Hastert came as a congressional ethics panel intensifies its inquiry, interviewing key figures in the scandal that threatens to cost Republicans votes in the upcoming legislation election.
In his latest statement, Hastert points to investigations under way by the House Ethics Committee, the Department of Justice and one in Florida, former Congressman Foley's home state.
Anyone found to have hidden or covered up information should, in Hastert's words, "be gone".
He said, "If there is a problem, if there was a cover-up, then we should find that out through the investigation process. They will be under oath and we will find out. If they did cover something up then they should not continue to have their jobs."
Last week, Hastert said he was sorry about the scandal and vowed to cooperate with the inquiry by the House Ethics Committee and Justice Department.
But he has refused to resign, although he acknowledged to reporters in Illinois that, as he put it, "[in] hindsight, probably you could do everything a little bit better."
On Capitol Hill, the House Ethics Committee will interview key figures as it accelerates its probe into what House Republican leaders knew of Foley's activities, when they knew it, and how they responded.
The Department of Justice, meanwhile, is interviewing former congressional pages and staffers and lawmakers.
One former page who may have received Internet messages from Foley, Jordan Edmund, spoke with FBI investigators [Tuesday] in Oklahoma City.
His attorney, Stephen Jones, said he is preparing to speak to the House ethics panel.
"This morning I was contacted by the House Committee on Official Standards known as the ethics committee. I will speak with them this afternoon. I do not know the extent of their interest," he said.
On Tuesday, another Republican lawmaker sought to clarify what he did to bring problems to the attention of the Republican leadership.
Congressman Jim Kolbe said he forwarded to Foley's office and the House clerk, information from a former page who contacted his office in 2000 or 2001 about inappropriate Internet messages.
Kolbe denied an earlier newspaper report that he had personally confronted Foley about his activities.
Meanwhile, there are indications of how much political damage Republicans are suffering from the Foley scandal.
Public opinion polls show the scandal adding to doubts among Americans polled about Republicans control of Congress. These come a few weeks before November elections in which voters will choose 33 members of the Senate and all 435 members of the House.
Democrats must gain 15 seats to take control of the House from Republicans, and six seats in the Senate. The Foley scandal appears to have shifted the advantage to Democrats in a number of key House races across the country.
Among four key polls, Democratic candidates enjoyed leads over Republicans of between 13 and 23 percentage points, something political analysts attribute not only to the Foley scandal but the war in Iraq.