On Tuesday evening, we received the following reply to our previously issued open letter to J. Randolph Evans, who is “Counsel to Speaker J. Dennis Hastert.” In that letter, we wrote in part, “we ask that you please identify the specific passages in the aforementioned story that you regard as actionable.”
The text of both Mr. Evan’s latest email and my response are reproduced below:
Sent: Tuesday, June 20, 2006 5:55 PM To: Bill Allison Subject: RE: Request for Further Information/Clarification
Dear Mr. Allison,
The documents and other information (now confirmed by other responsible media) reflect the libelous and defamatory content of your original posting. As you have undoubtedly noted from other reports, there was no basis for any suggestion as included in your posting that Speaker Hastert was “hiding” anything. Indeed, as confirmed by the documents you have posted, the Speaker’s disclosures confirmed the location, amount of interests, and type of transaction. This information was disclosed on the applicable Financial Disclosure form for the applicable year.
Although your posting has made some corrections and changes, it continues to suggest that the failure to list the trust (which would not have provided as much information as contained the actual Financial Disclosures), constitutes “hiding” information. This continues to be false and misleading. Given the level of information you now have, it is clear that such a statement and innuendo is included for the purpose of and with the intent to injure the reputation of Speaker Hastert. In this way, your posting continues to be libelous and defamatory.
When it comes to the reputation of Speaker Hastert, there are no idle threats. Instead, there is corrective action – either voluntary or compelled. On behalf of my client, Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, demand is made that you take appropriate corrective action. If you refuse, please confirm this refusal so that further emails are unnecessary. The failure to correct after a reasonable time will be deemed to be a refusal.
Although well documented and confirmed in public filings (e.g., FEC filings), my representation and compensation are not at issue here. Please advise regarding whether the false statement and innuendo referenced hereinabove will be voluntarily corrected.
Randy Evans Counsel to Speaker J. Dennis Hastert
Our response runs in full below:
Dear Mr. Evans:
I wanted to acknowledge receipt of your email, dated June 20, 2006.
If I understand your email, you object to the word “hiding,” and believe our post, entitled “Dennis Hastert’s Real Estate Investments,” published on June 14, 2006, “continues to suggest that the failure to list the trust (which would not have provided as much information as contained the actual Financial Disclosures), constitutes ‘hiding’ information.” You argue that such use of the word “hiding” is “libelous and defamatory.”
The word “hiding” appears once in the above-referenced post, in the following paragraph:
Hastert’s use of the trust obscured his ownership interest in particular parcels of property. For example, Hastert listed, on his 2004 financial disclosure form, that he had acquired a “1/4 share in 69 acres (Plano, Ill.)” on Feb. 17, 2004. However, a search of Kendall County public records for Hastert’s name revealed no such purchase. Instead, Little Rock Trust #225 acquired the property, effectively hiding Hastert’s interest in the land. (See Document 2.)
Our assertion is that the trust, which appeared in Kendall County public real estate records as the owner of the land, was “effectively hiding” Speaker Hastert’s involvement in the transaction as far as the county’s public records were concerned. We not only do not understand how this statement could be libelous or defamatory, we believe it to be completely accurate and documented by the publicly available real estate record showing “Little Rock Trust #225” as the legal owner of the land–and not Speaker Hastert.
As to your more general charge that we assert that “failure to list the trust…consitutes ‘hiding’ information,” I would again direct your attention to what we actually wrote:
House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert has used an Illinois trust to invest in real estate near the proposed route of the Prairie Parkway, a highway project for which he’s secured $207 million in earmarked appropriations. The trust has already transferred 138 acres of land to a real estate development firm that has plans to build a 1,600-home community, located less than six miles from the north-south connector Hastert has championed in the House.
Hastert’s 2005 financial disclosure form, released today, makes no mention of the trust. Hastert lists several real estate transactions in the disclosure, all of which were in fact done by the trust. Kendall County public records show no record of Hastert making the real estate sales he made public today; rather, they were all executed by the trust.
And so on, for several more paragraphs. We have simply provided factual information that was not disclosed by the Speaker—-information that you have not disputed and which indeed has been confirmed by your client, his trustee, and members of his staff.
Further, I would like to direct your attention to the following passage from the “Financial Disclosure Instruction Booklet 2006,” available online here.
The relevant passage reads,
For real property, give the street address, city and state. For property with no specific street address (such as unimproved property), give a brief description (such as type and amount of property) and its location (city and state) (e.g., “10 acres unimproved property, Ames , Iowa “). Identifying information used when the property is recorded with local officials will suffice for parcels with no street address.
The specific property must be disclosed even when it is held in partnership or by someone else for your benefit. For example, if you own an interest in a limited partnership established to purchase real estate, the property should be identified, as well as the partnership (e.g., “Tysons Limited Partnership, owning Tysons Corner Center , Tysons , Virginia “). An exception to the requirement that you must disclose underlying holdings is large public partnerships which are publicly traded (e.g., “Carlyle 1991 Limited Real Estate Partnership”).
The identity of a personal property holding should include the name of the corporation, partnership, financial institution, trust, or other entity in which the interest is held, and the type of interest (such as common stock, bonds , savings account, sole beneficiary, etc.) You may disclose your percentage ownership interest (e.g., “1/4 interest,” “51%”), but you are not required to do so. (Emphasis added.)
Speaker Hastert’s disclosure forms do not provide “identifying information used when the property is recorded with local officials” for any of the properties his trust acquired or sold that had no street addresses (the relevant parcel numbers are 01-05-400-003 and 01-04-300-003 for the two 69 acre parcels sold in 2005), nor did the 2005 form provide the address “15715 Miller Road” for the 1/3 interest in property at that street address, land that the trust acquired in 2005. And, as you are well aware, he did not list the name of the “corporation, financial institution, trust, or other entity in which the interest is held.”
I hope that this matter has now been fully clarified.
Bill Allison Senior Fellow The Sunlight Foundation