Yesterday, Sunlight's Bill Allison revealed what House Speaker Dennis Hastert didn't (but should have). Hastert has used a secret trust to sell land to real estate developers, adding to the growth and sprawl he's cited as justifying the Prairie Parkway for which he's secured a $207 million earmark.
Hastert's spokesmen are now claiming that his disclosure forms went above and beyond the requirements of lawmakers, and that he identified the location of the properties.
Here's what Allison had to go through to find out where Hastert's land was. See for yourself whether he "...include[d] a description sufficient to permit its identification (e.g., street address or plat and map location)," as the House Ethics Manual requires.Continue reading
Justin Rood examines why Congress, the House in particular, has devolved into chaos. Rood, looking at the Majority Republicans, states that a mixture of the loss of Tom DeLay (R-TX), who clearly was amazing at his job as partisan enforcer, the disastrous drop in public opinion of President Bush, and the steady stream of corruption investigations and guilty pleas has sent Republican members into a frenzy. Without any clear, strong leader and with Feds snooping around claiming that campaign contributions can be seen as bribes these members are, rightfully, unsettled. The lack of a strong charismatic figure is terrible for the Republican caucus. Since the 1994 revolution they have always had a strong and determined conservative leader, whether it be Newt Gingrich, DeLay or the President, who has led them in lock step support of conservative issues. It should be noted that DeLay was the one who put Dennis Hastert (R-IL) into the Speakership while he ruled the House from the Whip and Majority Leader post. The combination of Hastert, John Boehner (R-OH), and Roy Blunt (R-MO) has not been able to stop Republican hemmoraging.
This disorder and caucus revolt even bleeds over to the Democratic side where Rood states that they should be "placing advance orders for champagne and cigars and slapping each other on the back". The Congressional Black Caucus, a powerful 40-plus member gourp in the Democratic caucus, is in open revolt against Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) over her public effort to remove the discredited William Jefferson (D-LA) from the Ways and Means Committee. The CBC has had problems with the Democratic leadership for some time now and now that the leadership refuses to support Jefferson those problems are becoming even more strained. So why is Congress in such disarray? They feel that they are besieged and the walls have been breached. As Rood writes:
It should have been no secret to those on the Hilll that Hastert -- and the 30-plus other members who did legislative favors for Jack Abramoff and his clients -- would draw at least a passing query from the Justice Department. But as long as they were asked quietly and off the front pages, the situation was manageable.Members are besieged by the press, distrusted by their constituents, and the Justice Department is invading their territory. It is no wonder that they have turned inward and begun to devour each other. Continue reading
The Associated Press reports that Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) will put the tussle between Congress and the Justice Department over the raid of Rep. William Jefferson's (D-LA) congressional office "in the past" and work to "set up guidelines for the FBI to review materials it seized from a lawmaker's office and any other searches of Congress' offices." This occured after Hastert took direct criticism from conservatives in his party over his reaction over the raid of a Democrat's office. Conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh called Hastert "politically tone-deaf" and former Rep. Bob Barr (R-GA) stated, "Only thing I can figure is that Denny got up one morning and said, 'Our approval with the public is at 27 percent -- how can I drive that down further?'"Continue reading
- Jack Abramoff's emails to GSA official David Safavian were introduced in the trial of the former Bush administration official yesterday. In one email Abramoff expresses outrage over the possibility of losing the Old Post Office Building, which he was trying to get Safavian to sell to him to turn into a five-star hotel, to a women's group intent on turning the building into a women's history museum. "'What idiots!' the lobbyist wrote. 'This would kill any five star hotel for sure.'"
- Brian Ross reaffirmed his story about Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) in today's Washington Post although he adds that it "could wash out and be nothing."
- Two more aides to Rep. Bob Ney (R-OH) have been subpoenaed in relation to the Jack Abramoff bribery investigation, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer. The aides, Patrick Vinovich and Will Heaton, both accompanied Ney, Abramoff, Safavian, and Ralph Reed on the infamous 2002 "golf golf golf" trip to Scotland. Vinovich will exercise his Fifth Amendment rights to not testify in the Safavian case, however his financial records will be provided as evidence.
- "When they found the money in the freezer, man … I was kind of shocked. I just never thought he would get caught up — allegedly — in that type of situation." Rep. William Jefferson's (D-LA) alleged misdeeds are the new talk of the town in hurricane ravaged New Orleans, according to the Los Angeles Times. Residents are in shock over the allegations with some finding it incomprehensible for Jefferson to have done these things while others finding his alleged actions to confirm long-standing doubts about his character. The most meaningful quote in article reads, "I personally liked the man. After Katrina, we need him in the House Ways and Means Committee. It's a blow, not just for the city but the whole state. We need more positive things down here right now to get on our feet."
- Hi, I'm a journalist and I'm not going to tell you that I'm being paid by a candidate for office to write this column in support of his candidacy. Ethical schmethical!
- Conservatives are in revolt against their own party as they battle over earmarks and pet projects in an attempt to reassert fiscal discipline, a concept that seems to have been thrown out the window since 2001.
- The trial of David Safavian began yesterday with prosecutors arguing that Safavian broke the law and Safavian's defense claiming that the prosecution brought the case just because Safavian was friends with Jack Abramoff. Justin Rood went and watched the court room proceedings and found it incredibly boring to listen to a case that was basically just about golf.
- Some members of Congress are not ready to assail the Justice Department for its search of Rep. William Jefferson's (D-LA) congressional office for fears that it would give the public an even worse perception of Congress. Can the public have an even worse perspective of Congress? What is their approval rating, 7% or something? In actuality it's 27%, which is insanely low. People do not like you guys.
- House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi's (D-CA) public move to push Jefferson off of the Ways and Means Committee has caused the Congressional Black Caucus to go into open revolt against the Democratic Leadership, according to The Hill.
- And finally, Dennis Hastert (R-IL) may sue ABC for libel over their story that is under investigation by the Justice Department in connection to the Jack Abramoff scandal. Let me tell you something Dennis, in this country, you can't really win a libel suit. It's basically impossible. Trust me.
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. Continue reading
So let me get this straight. If you are a private citizen the police are free to search your car without your consent and use whatever they find against you in court; give you a few seconds to open your door before kicking it down if they SUSPECT you might destroy evidence, like a joint, before they enter; take your possessions to fund their police department whether you are guilty of a crime or not; and essentially pull you out of your house and arrest you with little to no evidence at all if they are arresting you on drug charges. And now Congress gets all testy when one of their members gets his office raided by the Feds after he is caught on tape accepting $100,000 in cold, hard cash. Speaker Dennis Hastert is demanding that the FBI return the files that they took:
"We think those materials ought to be returned," Hastert said, adding that the FBI agents involved "ought to be frozen out of that (case) just for the sake of the constitutional aspects of it."And Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi is calling the raid an abuse of executive power:
"Not anyone here is above the law," Pelosi told reporters Tuesday, as she prepared to meet with the House speaker. But, she added, "I think you've seen abuse of power of the executive branch over this weekend."Maybe the Congress needs to read up on how the modern police force acts and how they use forceful measures to instill fear and reactivate power. These kind of raids -- and in some communities they are done in a paramilitary fashion -- are common in parts of this country. Perhaps instead of complaining about how they are being treated Congress should recognize that they are being treated in the manner that they decided that the rest of the populace ought to be treated. Continue reading
- TPM Muckraker reports (via the Washington Post) that Rep. John Doolittle (R-CA), already under fire for his relationships with crooked characters Jack Abramoff and Brent Wilkes, "has been paying for babysitters out of his campaign till". Doolittle has spent $5,881 of his PAC money on child care costs since 2001. At least that's better than Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA) who used his PAC to pay for groceries and Starbucks.
- Hotline On Call Blog posts a quote from Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) pillorying the Senate for their profligant additions to the emergency supplemental bill. "Any calls from the Senate for an across-the-board cut to make room for a bloated supplemental will be met by a busy signal in the House. The House will not join a shell-game spending spree with taxpayer dollars."
- The aforementioned Sen. Santorum seems to be in trouble again. Citizens for Ethics and Responsibility in Washington (CREW) has filed a complaint with the FEC alleging that two former staffers for Santorum "violated several provisions of the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA)." I feel that someone should keep a tally of which legislator receives the most filed complaints against them by CREW in a given year.
- The Los Angeles Times reports that Rep. Dana Rohrbacher (R-CA), once an aspiring screenwriter, "will return $23,000 he received for a screenplay option from a Hollywood producer who pleaded guilty Tuesday to defrauding dozens of people into investing in a bogus television series about the U.S. Department of Homeland Security." This happens to be one of the funnier tales of influence buying in the current Congress but it leaves one question. Why didn't Rohrabacher sell his conservative themed script to his buddy Jack Abramoff, former movie producer? Abramoff produced the unbelievably bad conservative movie "Red Scorpion", why couldn't he help make Rohrabacher's tale of a grizzled war veteran who goes into Baja California with a stereotypical liberal straw man and hijinks ensue. I guess the answer is that if you want to make a wretched movie like that you need to have the backing of the secret intelligence service of an oppressive regime.
- Nico at Think Progress writes about the importance of "Nine Fingers". For those who haven't been following the Cunningham/Wilkes/Prostitution scandal as close as others "Nine Fingers" is a CIA agent who attended the infamous poker parties that Wilkes threw at the Watergate and Westin hotels. These poker games are alleged to have turned into hooker parties.
- Also at Think Progress, Judd writes that Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) inserted a provision into a Defense Appropriations bill that was written by the vaccine industry. The provision "granted vaccine manufactures near-total immunity for injuries or deaths (even in cases of “gross negligence”) caused by their drugs during a viral pandemic, such as an outbreak of the avian flu." The vaccine industry's lobbyist was none other than Hastert's son, Joshua Hastert.
- Raw Story picks up a Roll Call story that shows more trouble for Rep. Alan Mollohan (D-WV). Taking trips to Spain paid for by non-profits that you created and then funnelled millions of dollars in federal earmarks to while receiving campaign contributions from the directors of said non-profits is bound to raise some eyebrows.
“We need to bring about bold, strong reform,” Rules Chairman David Drier (R-CA) declared despite the Republican leadership’s plan to “indefinitely shelve the Senate bill tightening lobbying law” and Republican opposition to many aspects of a reform package. The Los Angeles Times reports that many rank-and-file House Republicans are upset over a proposed ban on private travel and restrictions on earmarks. The disunion over ethics and lobbying reform has also split the leadership. The Hill reports that Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert (R-IL) “erupted at Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio) because he thought the newly elected majority leader was dragging his feet on lobbying reform.” Boehner has opposed the private travel ban proposed by Drier and Hastert in the wake of the Cunningham and Abramoff guilty pleas. Lobbying and ethics reform “has created significant tension within the leadership” as “[r]ank-and-file members have tried to play leaders off each other”.Continue reading