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Last Updated: Thursday, 5 October 2006, 00:41 GMT 01:41 UK
E-mail row hits top US Republican
Dennis Hastert
Dennis Hastert accused Democrats of political point-scoring
The most senior Republican in the US House of Representatives is facing new charges of covering up a scandal over a former congressman's lurid e-mails.

A former aide to disgraced Congressman Mark Foley says he warned Republican House leader Dennis Hastert about Mr Foley's conduct three years ago.

Mr Foley resigned after it emerged last week that he sent sexually suggestive e-mails to young men on his staff.

Mr Hastert denies early knowledge of the e-mails and says he will not quit.

President George W Bush has spoken of his disgust at Mr Foley's actions.

But Mr Bush has also defended Mr Hastert in a scandal correspondents say is dominating politics as next month's mid-term polls approach.

Any suggestion that Mark Foley is a paedophile is false, categorically false
David Roth, lawyer

The latest opinion poll shows the Democrats within reach of retaking the House of Representatives, leading in 11 of 15 vital Republican-held seats.

The new allegations were levelled by Kirk Fordham, who was Mr Foley's chief of staff until early 2004.

He told the Associated Press news agency he had warned Mr Hastert's office of Mr Foley's behaviour more than three years ago.

'Resign, Mr Speaker'

Mr Fordham said he had had "more than one conversation with senior staff at the highest level of the House of Representatives asking them to intervene".

He also denied allegations that he covered up any misdeeds by Mr Foley.

Mark Foley
Mark Foley was "abused as a teenager by a priest"

"At no point ever did I ask anyone to block any inquiries," he told the agency.

The BBC's James Westhead in Washington says Mr Fordham's claim further weakens Mr Hastert's position, as it suggests he knew of the Congressman's behaviour far earlier than he has admitted.

Mr Hastert has strongly defended his role, accusing the Democrats of political point-scoring.

Mr Bush has backed Mr Hastert, saying the Speaker "wants all the facts to come out".

Earlier on Wednesday, US media revealed a possible romantic link with a young congressional worker and that warnings about Mr Foley's conduct went as far back as 1995.

Mr Foley, a member of the House of Representatives caucus on missing and exploited children, resigned on Friday after revelations that he had sent sexual messages to young men on his staff.

Sexual contact denied

The youngest recipient of the suggestive e-mails is said to have been 16-years-old.

Mr Foley denied ever having sexual contact with a minor, his lawyer said - adding that his client had declared he was gay and had been abused in his early teens.

ABC Television has now published intimate e-mail exchanges showing Mr Foley and one congressional "page" worker planning an encounter and trading internet kisses.

Page workers are high school students appointed to help with administrative work at the House of Representatives.

It said in one April 2003 message Mr Foley invited a teenager to his home to drink alcohol, an invitation that was accepted.

The Washington Post reported that as far back as 1995, some pages were warned to be aware of the actions of Mr Foley.

One former page said Mr Foley had sent e-mails asking them to join him for ice-cream.

The Post said about a dozen former pages had talked of Mr Foley's behaviour, some of them expressing how it made them uncomfortable.

None has suggested any sexual activities ever took place.


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