Last night, Brian Ross of ABC News reported that House Speaker Dennis Hastert was 'in the mix' in the Abramoff investigation.
Federal officials say the Congressional bribery investigation now includes Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert, based on information 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.
This resulted a series of from both Hastert and the Justice Department that went back and forth until after midnight. As Ross reported, this was the DOJ statement in its entirety:
STATEMENT FROM THE DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE
"Speaker Hastert is not under investigation by the Justice Department."
Short statements are generally made when saying more would force you to lie. The next statement, issued after midnight, went further:
Deputy Attorney General Paul J. McNulty, "With regard to reports suggesting that the Speaker of the House is under investigation or 'in the mix,' as stated by ABC News, I reconfirm, as stated by the Department earlier this evening, that these reports are untrue."
In response, Ross turns to his source, "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... 'You guys wrote the story very carefully but they are not reading it very carefully,' a senior official said.
He said it was common to describe someone involved in an investigation as not being a 'target' or 'subject' of the investigation, but that this doesn't mean the person isn't being investigated.
So who should we believe? It's kind of a no-brainer, isn't it? If Hastert took funds from Abramoff - and no one denies that he did - then it's ridiculous to assert that the connection's not being investigated.
And that investigation could move at a pretty quick pace. In Ross's last report (at this posting), he tells us that two informants - Randall 'Duke' Cunningham and Abramoff himself are singing like birds. "The widening FBI investigation of congressional corruption is being fueled by two convicted Washington insiders," Ross reports, "Who federal officials and defense lawyers say are telling the FBI 'anything they want to know.'"
And one of the names they're obviously asking about is a guy from Illinois named Hastert.