Abramoff Lobbying Scandal: Big Timber Falls Hard


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.