Last night ABC News’ Brian Ross broke a story that Speaker Dennis Hastert was “in the mix” in the Justice Department’s investigation into the Jack Abramoff bribery investigation. Hastert’s office vehemently denied that the Speaker was under investigation or that he did anything wrong. The Justice Department soon backed him up saying, “Speaker Hastert is not under investigation by the Justice Department.” Hastert subsequently called for a full retraction of the story by Ross and ABC News. Instead of retracting the story Ross checked back with his sources and is sticking by what they have to say:
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. … Law enforcement sources told ABC News that convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff has provided information to the FBI about Hastert and a number of other members of Congress that have broadened the scope of the investigation. Sources would not divulge details of the Abramoff’s information.
“You guys wrote the story very carefully but they are not reading it very carefully,” a senior official said.
DOJ issued a post-midnight statement that continued to deny the story. Personally I doubt that ABC and Ross would stand by a story like this if it they thought it could possibly not be true. The background here is that Hastert, along with then Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX), Majority Whip Roy Blunt (R-MO), and Eric Cantor (R-VA) wrote a letter to the Department of the Interior demanding that they not grant a Louisiana Indian Tribe the right to build an off-reservation casino. That tribe’s casino was opposed by another Indian Tribe that was represented by Jack Abramoff. Hastert was the top recipient of money from Jack Abramoff and his clients. Kevin Drum at the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal, points to his magazine’s cover story, The End of Legal Bribery, written by Jeffrey Birnbaum, as a means to understand the new way in which the Public Integrity Unit is pursuing corruption on Capitol Hill.