Former House clerk set to testify in US congressional sex scandal investigation

One central figure has been silent in the investigation of a Republican former congressman's inappropriate approaches to male teenage assistants: a former congressional officer whose upcoming testimony could support or seriously damage the House of Representatives' leader, Dennis Hastert.

When former House Clerk Jeff Trandahl appears before the House ethics committee in closed session Thursday, his testimony may help investigators determine how Hastert's office dealt with former Congressman Mark Foley.

It comes as Republicans are trying to hold onto their majority in both chambers of Congress in Nov. 7 elections, in which all 435 seats in the House, and 33 of the 100 in the Senate, are up for a vote. Democrats can take a majority if they win 15 seats in the House. In the Senate, they would need six.

In an internal report released by Hastert, his aides contend that they first learned about Foley's conduct in the fall of 2005, when they became aware of overly friendly e-mails to a former assistant, known as a page, from Louisiana. However, Foley's former top aide said he told Hastert's chief of staff about the Florida Republican's conduct in 2002 or 2003.

Trandahl, who usually greeted acquaintances in the Capitol with a smile and a friendly conversation, has made no public statements since the scandal broke and, for a time, wouldn't even reveal the name of his lawyer, Cono Namorato.

With polls showing the Foley scandal could hurt Republicans in the November elections, Trandahl's testimony could be damaging if he contradicts Hastert's account and says Republican leaders lacked the urgency required to protect the teenage pages. Hastert, the House speaker, has fended off calls for his resignation and said he believes he and his staff acted properly.

Trandahl was the official who likely would have known about any problems involving the page program, including improper conduct by pages or improper approaches from lawmakers or House employees. He supervised the program and was on its controlling group, the House Page Board, which consists of three lawmakers, the House clerk and the sergeant at arms.

Trandahl, who works for the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, was known to be protective of pages. They are high school students who run errands and learn how Congress works. They live in a dormitory and attend a congressional school, reports AP.

Foley resigned his seat Sept. 29 after he was confronted with sexually explicit instant messages he sent former male pages, messages far more damaging than those sent the Louisiana page. In that case, Foley asked what the 16-year-old wanted for his birthday and requested a picture.

Foley also reportedly tried to enter the pages' dormitory near the Capitol while intoxicated.