U.S. Rep. Tom Cole made a stop in Chickasha Thursday as part of his campaign to retain his 4th Congressional District seat against Democratic challenger Howard Spake.

Cole is eager to talk about the issues he feels are important to his constituency such as the improving economy and winning the war on terror. But, as the Nov. 7 election nears, many of the questions in recent days focus on the scandal surrounding former Rep. Mark Foley and his explicit e-mails to young male congressional pages.

Foley stepped down from Congress and entered rehab for what he said was a problem with alcohol. In the wake of the resignation are questions about how House leadership handled the allegations when they first surfaced as long ago as three years.

Cole, who sits on the House ethics committee, said it is the committee’s role to find out “who knew what, when they knew about it and what they did about it.”

He said the committee and its investigations subcommittee are determined to conduct an exhaustive, non-partisan inquiry and he’s proud of how they have responded openly and quickly. He said it was their intention to not only deal with the Foley fallout but to determine if there have been any other incidents involving inappropriate contact between House members or staff and the pages.

“The investigation is being handled by senior members,” Cole said. He said the members of the investigations committee are “tough minded, independent and determined to act quickly. They have already issued 48 subpoenas.

Because he sits on the ethics committee, Cole said he couldn’t delve into the specifics of the Foley investigation, but said the way the allegations were handled by house leadership could fall into a couple of areas.

“There is the sin of omission,” he said. “If you knew it happened and looked the other way. And then there’s the sin of commission -- where you had reason to believe something was going on but did nothing.”

“There’s a lot yet to determine,” Cole said.

Cole, who said he has never had a congressional page work for his office, said questions have arisen about the future of the program.

“Interns and pages aren’t necessary for Congress to operate,” Cole said. “We can certainly afford to pay people to deliver messages and run errands.” But, he said, the former pages and their parents insist that Congress not get rid of the program because of they see value in the experience.

“The institution has a ‘trust relationship with these kids,’” Cole said. He said it is an “institutional problem” that pages and interns don’t feel comfortable coming forward and that climate needs to change.

“Parents expect us to keep their kids safe and secure,” he said.

Jerry Pittman is publisher of The Express-Star. You can e-mail him at jpittman@cnhi.com

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