Media

Abramoff Lobbying Scandal: Big Timber Falls Hard

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WASHINGTON, D.C.–With leaders of both parties compromised in
the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal, questions now center
around Republican Dennis Hastert, speaker of the House, who
yesterday shed himself of tainted campaign
contributions totaling $70,000. He gave the money to
an unspecified charity.

In November of last year, the Washington Post
described a fundraiser, held by Hastert, at one of
Abramoff’s restaurants. The party yielded Hastert
$21,500 for his political action committee. While
several lawmakers who received money from the
fundraiser had already returned it, only yesterday did
Hastert come forward.

“The speaker believes that while these contributions
were legal, it is appropriate to donate the money to
charity,” a spokesman for the Illinois Republican, Ron
Bonjean, said.

Hastert, often viewed as a weak Speaker and little more
than a frontpiece for indicted majority leader Tom Delay, recently was linked to another potential
political campaign scandal. Vanity Fair last fall ran
an article in which Sibel Edmonds, the former FBI
translator blocked by a government gag order from
telling what she knows about the FBI operations around
the time of 9-11, describes how, in her days as an FBI
interpreter, she ran across wiretaps of Turkish
officials discussing campaign contributions to various
politicians, including Hastert.

“Some of the calls reportedly contained what sounded
like references to large-scale drug shipments and
other crimes,” wrote Vanity Fair. “To a person who
knew nothing about their context, the details were
confusing and it wasn’t always clear what might be
significant. One name, however, apparently stood out–a man the Turkish callers often referred to by the
nickname ‘Denny boy.’ It was the Republican
congressman from Illinois and Speaker of the House,
Dennis Hastert. According to some of the wiretaps, the
F.B.I.’s targets had arranged for tens of thousands of
dollars to be paid to Hastert’s campaign funds in
small checks. Under Federal Election Commission rules,
donations of less than $200 are not required to be
itemized in public filings.”

The magazine went on to point out that there had
been a large amounts of money–some $483,000 from 1996
through December 2002–in non-itemized contributions to
Hastert’s re-election committee. Edmonds said the
phone recordings made repeated references to Hastert’s
role in first supporting, then unexpectedly opposing, a
House resolution declaring the killing of Armenians in
Turkey as genocide. Hastert claimed he withdrew the
resolution after then President Clinton said it would
hurt U.S. interests in Turkey. There is no evidence
Hastert himself knew anything about this, and his
spokesman denied any connection to Turkish lobbyists
or groups. He also denied any wrongdoing.