That's awful, politics can be one of the worst parts of the job. And yes. It sounds like you don't know who's hosting the site. That means you'll need to talk to the previous designer at least to get the hosting info out of him, so you'll have to be on your best behavior.
It sounds like your friend got ripped off, but usually in these cases the previous designer probably feels disgusted with the whole thing as well. Call them up, keep it professional. Just tell him that you're the "website administrator" and you need the hosting company information.
I wouldn't say anymore than that... don't tell him you're redesigning his mess. Don't tell him anything about how anybody feels. If he gets mad and hangs up on you... you will be looking at that botched website for a LONG time. The sooner you get the info and hang up, the sooner you can change the password and begin a new chapter in your friends website. And 5 years from now, you and your friend won't care about anything else.
It's a lame situation, but you won't regret being a professional about it. And good luck with the site.
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Chroniclemaster1, Founder of www.EarthChronicle.com
A Growing History of our Planet, by our Planet, for our Planet.