Wednesday, January 04, 2006


The House Speaker, tripped up by a botched conspiracy to dine 'n' dash?

WASHINGTON -- The guilty plea by lobbyist Jack Abramoff could bring renewed scrutiny of a letter sent by House Speaker Dennis Hastert of Illinois to Interior Secretary Gale Norton urging her to block an Indian casino opposed by rival tribes represented by Abramoff just one week after the lobbyist hosted a fundraiser for Hastert's political action committee.

Many in official Washington, Republicans and Democrats, were scrambling Wednesday to try to distance themselves from Abramoff -- Hastert among them -- fearing that they could be tainted by even the appearance of an association with the now disgraced lobbyist.

Abramoff pleaded guilty this week to corruption charges and agreed to cooperate with federal prosecutors in a broadening investigation of bribery in Washington, which Abramoff admitted included the exchange of campaign contributions and other favors for official assistance to his clients. As part of his plea agreement, Abramoff is expected to help investigators determine whether others, including elected officials, broke any laws.

Indian tribes represented by Abramoff donated more than $20,000 to Hastert around the time of the fundraiser, which was held at Signatures, a Washington restaurant owned by Abramoff. Hastert's campaign committee did not pay the tab for the June 3, 2003, luncheon fundraiser until last year, following media inquiries about the unpaid check.

Here's hoping Hastert turns up on Abramoff's menu.

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