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When the Boss Gets Busted: Survival Stories from the Front Lines of Political Scandal
Comments () | Published July 25, 2011
As other staffers departed, Matthew Parker (right) urged Bob Ney to keep fighting.
Roussell was right—the experience she gained with Jefferson would turn out to be helpful.

On a Friday afternoon in May of this year, she sits in her large, sunlit office at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, where she’s the press secretary.

Roussell, now 32, left Jefferson’s staff in 2007, right after he won reelection despite the allegations against him. Her best friend’s brother turned up unharmed a few weeks after Katrina hit, and none of Roussell’s loved ones were killed in the disaster.

Her next stop after Jefferson’s office was as communications director for the House Judiciary Committee. During the job interview, she talked up the skills she had acquired while dealing with the Jefferson investigation: “They hired me largely because all of their beat reporters were the Justice Department reporters—the same ones who had been covering the William Jefferson case.”

Rousell joined the Obama campaign in 2008, which led to her current job in his administration. She says the last time she spoke to Jefferson was the day she interviewed for her current position. She thought she’d call him for some career advice, like old times. He was a few months from the start of his trial for federal bribery and public corruption. He would be found guilty and sentenced to 13 years in prison, though he’s not yet in jail and is appealing his conviction.

“He was not the same,” recalls Roussell, who says Jefferson sounded distant and sad. “I’ve not talked to him since.”

She was disappointed when the day came for the defense to present its case and Jefferson chose not to testify. Says Roussell: “I’m still waiting to hear the full explanation.”

Kirk Fordham, a former chief of staff to Florida Republican representative Mark Foley, vividly remembers the afternoon in September 2006 when Foley’s career came crashing down. Though Fordham had left Foley’s office nearly three years earlier, he was still working in Congress and was at Foley’s DC home for a meeting on how to get House Republicans reelected that year. Over lunch, Fordham’s phone began ringing. He ignored the first few calls until he realized it was Jason Kello, Foley’s press secretary. Fordham took the call on the back patio.

“Jason was essentially hyperventilating,” Fordham says. Questionable e-mails between Foley and a former male page had been circulating, but those were nowhere near as damaging as what was about to surface. Kello told Fordham he had just received a call from ABC News asking for comment on a string of sexually explicit instant messages Foley had sent to another page. (Attempts to contact Foley for this article were unsuccessful.)

An ethics investigation followed. Because Fordham had spent years working for Foley, he became a key witness. The ethics committee interviewed him for four hours. He was also interviewed by the FBI as part of a parallel criminal probe. Fordham says his legal bills topped $30,000. Friends set up a trust to help pay the tab.

Fordham had worried for years that Foley was “too chummy” with male staffers and pages but says he wasn’t aware that the problem went beyond just appearances. While he was Foley’s chief of staff, he says, he found himself in the “very uncomfortable” position of confronting the congressman about the way he interacted with young men. “You have to strike that careful balance because your job is to protect the congressman’s reputation,” says Fordham.

The final ethics report concluded that Fordham had talked to his then-boss about the appearance problem and had also alerted House leadership. The report commended his efforts to curb Foley’s behavior, but Fordham’s involvement made him a media target. He remembers sneaking into his own home through a back alley to avoid the reporters staking him out. Even now he has to deal with residual effects.

A Wikipedia entry about him says he used to accompany Foley in public to keep him out of trouble. “That just never happened,” says Fordham, who today is CEO of the Everglades Foundation near Miami.

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Posted at 08:00 AM/ET, 07/25/2011 RSS | Print | Permalink | Comments () | Washingtonian.com Articles