- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 24, 2006

The Justice Department and House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert last night denied an ABC News report that the FBI is investigating the Illinois Republican for ties to lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

ABC News cited “high-level” Justice Department sources in its report last night that said Mr. Hastert has been implicated by convicted lobbyists who are cooperating with the wider government ethics probe.

Several sources quickly disputed the report.

“Speaker Hastert is not under investigation by the Justice Department,” Justice Department spokesman Brian Roehrkasse said.

In addition, a federal law-enforcement official familiar with the Abramoff probe told The Washington Times that the ABC report was “suspect.”

“The Department of Justice just said there’s nothing there,” Mr. Hastert told reporters as he walked back to his office.

Later last night, Hastert spokesman Ron Bonjean said, “The ABC News report is absolutely untrue … We are demanding a full retraction.”

ABC News reported that the investigation stems from a letter Mr. Hastert sent former Interior Secretary Gale A. Norton in 2003, asking that a proposed Indian casino be blocked. The casino would have affected other tribes, which were represented by Abramoff, who has since pleaded guilty to bribing members of Congress in exchange for legislative favors.

Both the letter and a $26,000 fundraiser Abramoff held for the speaker at the lobbyist’s restaurant, Signatures, have been reported since the lobbyist’s guilty plea in January.

The June 2003 fundraiser at Signatures netted several donations for Mr. Hastert, including a personal $2,500 contribution from Abramoff. At the time, there were questions about who paid for the meal that was attended by lobbyists from Abramoff’s firm, Greenberg Traurig.

The speaker’s political action committee paid the bill.

In total, the speaker received $100,000 from Abramoff’s firm and tribal clients from 2001 to 2004.

Mr. Hastert donated $70,000 of the funds to charity last year, saying it was “appropriate,” as did many other lawmakers who received contributions from the tainted lobbyist.

Hastert spokesman Ron Bonjean told ABC News, “We are not aware of this.”

The ABC news report capped a day of wrangling between the legislative and executive branches over investigation of members.

Mr. Hastert sharply criticized the Justice Department for raiding Rep. William J. Jefferson’s office as part of a bribery probe. Mr. Hastert, who also complained to President Bush, said the weekend search of the Louisiana Democrat’s office was unconstitutional.

When asked last night whether the ABC item had anything to do with his anger over raid, Mr. Hastert replied, “You can draw your own conclusions.”

Mr. Hastert, 64, has served 10 terms. By next week, he will become the longest-serving Republican speaker in history. He was elected in January 1999 to the position, which makes him second in line of presidential succession, behind the vice president.

• Amy Fagan contributed to this report.

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