Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Hastert Under FBI Investigation For Bribery

Speaker of the House Denny Hastert is very upset the FBI kicked down Representative William Jefferson's office doors over the weekend in a corruption probe. He's so upset, in fact, that he co-wrote a letter along with Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi demanding the FBI return documents they took from Jefferson's office:

WASHINGTON (AP) -- In rare, election-year harmony, House Republican and Democratic leaders jointly demanded on Wednesday that the FBI return documents taken in a Capitol Hill raid that has quickly grown into a constitutional turf fight beyond party politics.

''The Justice Department must immediately return the papers it unconstitutionally seized,'' House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., and Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said in a statement.

After that, they said, Democratic Rep. William Jefferson of Louisiana must cooperate with the Justice Department's bribery investigation against him.

The leaders also said the Justice Department should not look at the documents or give them to investigators in the Jefferson case.

The developments capped a day of escalating charges, demands and behind-the-scene talks between House leaders and the Justice Department that ended with no resolution, according to officials of both parties.


Hastert, Pelosi and several other leaders of both parties in the Senate say the weekend raid violated the Constitution's separation of powers doctrine.

''These constitutional principles were not designed by the founding fathers to place anyone above the law,'' Hastert and Pelosi said. ''Rather, they were designed to protect the Congress and the American people from abuses of power, and those principles deserve to be vigorously defended.''

Turns out Hastert might be upset with the FBI's Capitol Hill raid on Jefferson's office for a reason other than constitutional privileges - ABC's Brian Ross reports Hastert's also under investigation by the FBI in a bribery probe involving GOP lobbyist Jack Abramoff:

The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Dennis Hastert, is under investigation by the FBI, which is seeking to determine his role in an ongoing public corruption probe into members of Congress, ABC News has learned from senior U.S. law enforcement officials.

Federal officials say the information implicating Hastert was developed 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."

ABC News also reports that "Hastert is the No.1 individual recipient of money from Abramoff and his clients, with a total of $68,300 contributed to his campaign committee and leadership PAC from 1998 to 2004."

Yikes. The FBI allegedly has a tape of William Jefferson (D-Louisiana) taking bribe money. The FBI found $90,000 Jefferson had hidden in a freezer. The Jefferson case ought to take some of the steam out of the Democrats' Culture of Corruption campaign theme this November. But Denny Hastert and the GOP have managed to screw it up, first by complaining about the FBI raid on Jefferson's office on Capitol Hill and then by the news that the Speaker of the House is entangled in his own FBI bribery probe.

First Tom Delay had to resign his leadership post, now Denny Hastert may be following him. And we still haven't heard the results of the SEC investigation into Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist.

It's been quite a year for the Republican leadership in the Congress.

I bet it will get even worse for Republicans if Karl Rove's indictment comes up soon. David Shuster reported on Hardball tonight that two former federal prosecutors he has interviewed believe if Rove was not going to be charged in the CIA leak case, he would have been already informed of that fact by the special prosecutor. Since Rove has heard no word of his fate in the case, it looks like special prosecutor Fitzgerald is just putting the finishing touches on the indictment.

What a summer this could be.

UPDATE: Keith Olbermann says a Justice Dept. official told NBC News that every member of Congress who took money from Jack Abramoff has been looked at, but any statement that Speaker Hastert is under investigation in a bribery probe is "a leap."

We'll see how big a leap this really is.

SECOND UPDATE: ABC stands by the Hastert/bribery investigation report.

You were braver than me, joining the dots...
The story aslmost looked to good to be real, but then I guess we can expect all sorts of breaking drama now.
You did comment earlier on the fact that he was particularly vocal on the FBI raids, Good one!
Dana Milbank of the Post also seemed to think there's not much to the Hastert probe, just like NBC reported. Makes you wonder what ABC News's sources told them.

We'll have to wait for this to all shake out. But even the report itself doesn't help coming on the same day Hastert demanded the FBI return the Jefferson documents.
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