House Speaker Hastert Under Investigation for Bribery?

ABC News’ Chief Investigative Correspondent Brian Ross reported on his blog at 6:24 last evening:

Federal officials say the Congressional bribery investigation now includes Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert, based on information from convicted lobbyists who are now cooperating with the government. Part of the investigation involves a letter Hastert wrote three years ago, urging the Secretary of the Interior to block a casino on an Indian reservation that would have competed with other tribes. The other tribes were represented by convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff who reportedly has provided details of his dealings with Hastert as part of his plea agreement with the government. The letter was written shortly after a fund-raiser for Hastert at a restaurant owned by Abramoff. Abramoff and his clients contributed more than $26,000 at the time.

The day Abramoff was indicted, Hastert denied any unlawful connection and said he would donate to charity any campaign contribution he had received from Abramoff and his clients. A spokesman for Speaker Hastert told ABC News, “We are not aware of this. The Speaker has a long history and a well-documented record of opposing Indian Reservation shopping for casino gaming purposes.”

This week, Hastert has been outspoken in his criticism of the FBI for its raid on the office of another congressman under investigation, Democrat William Jefferson of Louisiana.

Krista Cole, the Deputy Press Secretary for House Republican Caucus Vice Chairman Jack Kingston, sent out a mass email to OTB and untold others at 8:54 pm which stated, in its entirety:

Ron Bonjean, Communications Director for Speaker of the House J. Dennis Hastert (R-IL) issued the following statement regarding the ABC Nightly News story that aired this evening:

“The ABC News report is absolutely untrue. As confirmed by the Justice Department, ‘Speaker Hastert is not under investigation by the Justice Department.’ We are demanding a full retraction of the ABC News story. The Speaker’s earlier statement issued today accurately reflects the facts regarding this matter.”

This was followed by an AP report wherein DOJ officials denied the veracity of the story.

The Justice Department denied a news report Wednesday that it was investigating House Speaker Dennis Hastert. The statement by department spokeswoman Tasia Scolinos came in response to a report by ABC News that Hastert was under investigation by the FBI to determine his role in a public corruption probe centered around convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

[…]

Asked if he was being investigated, Hastert said late Wednesday that he has not received any notice from the Justice Department that he was being investigated as part of the Jack Abramoff probe. “You’ll have to ask the Justice Department,” he told reporters, as he walked from his office to the House chamber. “Somebody leaked it out.” Pressed by reporters, Scolinos said: “Speaker Hastert is not under investigation by the Justice Department.” Hastert’s office later issued a statement calling the ABC report “absolutely untrue” and demanding a full retraction. ABC had no immediate comment.

Hastert was among nearly three dozen lawmakers who pressed the Interior Department to block a Louisiana Indian casino’s casino application. An Associated Press review of campaign reports, IRS records and congressional correspondence found that Hastert and the other lawmakers had collected large donations from Abramoff and his tribal clients. Between 2001 and 2004, Hastert collected more than $100,000 in donations from Abramoff’s firm and tribal clients. He also had used Abramoff’s restaurant to hold fundraisers.

In a 10:21 update, he contends,

Despite a flat denial from the Department of Justice, federal law enforcement sources tonight said ABC News accurately reported that Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert is “in the mix” in the FBI investigation of corruption in Congress.

[…]

“You guys wrote the story very carefully but they are not reading it very carefully,” a senior official said.

Glenn Reynolds offers plenty of musing on this noting that, “Of course, if Hastert isn’t under investigation, we’re back to the question of why he’s waging an asinine crusade against the enforcement of laws against Congressional corruption.” Indeed.

Update: Dan Riehl notes that most of the Hastert-Abramoff story was reported back on January 4, citing a San Jose Mercury News reprint of a Chicago Tribune story.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Herb says:

    Hastert, Jefferson, Only 433 to go.

  2. Bithead says:

    Glenn Reynolds offers plenty of musing on this noting that, â??Of course, if Hastert isnâ??t under investigation, weâ??re back to the question of why heâ??s waging an asinine crusade against the enforcement of laws against Congressional corruption.â?? Indeed.

    Well, I guess the same question, if you’re going to look at it THAT way, can be asked of a relatively disinterested party taking the same position… Newt Gingrich, who from the first day, objected on what he said were constitutional grounds.

    In general, it seems to me that the reason that these issues are as yet undecided, is that the conduct of the Congresscritters has never been bad enough to warrant these questions being brought to the front and center, before.

    Particularly, the reason the questions have never been forced before is because we’ve not had people like Democrat Jefferson, perviously. Clearly, being caught with cash in the freezer is enough to end most of the arguments about his guilt or innoence in the minds of Americans, thereby requiring action.

    One gets the impression that this is not a matter of covering some sort of criminal activity so much as arguing a major, unsettled constitutional question.

    Personally, I’m inclined to think the search and subsequent gathering of evdience resulting from that search to be legal, and proper, but I don’t think that Hastert and Gingrich (and others, for large part) arguing otherwise is indcative for anything other than an unfounded constitutional concern.

    I mean, the timing of the arguments being posed sucks, but when else would such constitutional questions have come up, previously?