Opinion: Dennis Hastert failed to respond to Abramoff scandal

Dennis Hastert during his years in Congress. Photo from U.S. House of Representatives

Peter H. Stone, the author of Casino Jack and the United States of Money: Superlobbyist Jack Abramoff and the Buying of Washington, blames indicted former Congressman Dennis Hastert for encouraging a "culture of sleaze" on Capitol Hill:
Congress today has among the lowest approval ratings that it’s ever had—down there with cockroaches and root canals. Dennis Hastert helped get it there, tolerating, and at times even fostering a culture of sleaze. During his speakership—the longest ever by a Republican—the House’s morass of scandals, both in breadth and depth, was unprecedented, blow after blow for an institution that on its best day is still the punchline of too many jokes.

As House speaker, Rep. J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) didn’t really do anything about it. Worse, Hastert caved on reform legislation and was oblivious to early warnings about at least one scandal. What Hastert did do was protect his closest ally and mentor, Majority Leader Tom DeLay, from tough investigation of misconduct by intervening with the House ethics oversight committee.

Many of the biggest scandals of Hastert’s era hit close to home. As the Jack Abramoff corruption scandal began to break in 2005 and the one-time “super-lobbyist” was indicted by a Florida grand jury on fraud charges, Hastert didn’t need much of a briefing. He knew Jack Abramoff well enough, and had held fundraisers at the lobbyist’s once thriving Pennsylvania Avenue restaurant, Signatures.

In his eight year run as Speaker, the House was a morass of ethics scandals—but what was most remarkable was how little Hastert did to address it. Hastert and other House leaders displayed almost no appetite for serious lobbying reforms in response to the Abramoff scandal—despite some two years of hard-hitting stories, and Senate hearings focused on his influence peddling chicanery with several casino owning Indian tribes.

Get the Story:
Peter H. Stone: Hastert’s House of Sleaze (Politico 6/10)

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