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Hastert Irate at ABC Story; Bush Freezes Files

House Speaker Dennis Hastert demands a retraction from ABC News for reporting that Hastert was involved in an investigation of a corrupt lobbyist -- even after the Justice Department had denied he was a target. Hastert has said that someone inside the Justice Department might have led ABC astray in an effort to intimidate him.

Hastert has denounced a Justice Department search of the congressional office of Rep. William Jefferson (D-LA), who is under investigation for corruption. Jefferson's home and congressional office were searched last week by federal agents.

Reports that Hastert was part of the Justice investigation into the corrupt lobbyist Jack Abramoff'S ties on Capitol Hill were reported by ABC News Wednesday night. They were quickly denied by the Justice Department.

Speaking with Chicago radio station WGN early Thursday, Hastert was asked whether he is still seeking a retraction from ABC. "Oh absolutely, the House speaker said. "It's not true, the Justice Departments denied it. This is one of the leaks that come out to try and intimidate people, and we're just not going to be intimidated."

But later Thursday, when he appeared outside the Capitol at a ceremony honoring veterans, Hastert was starting to sound a little more measured.

"Now I don't know if this leak, that came out of the Justice Department or wherever it came from, was a coincidence or not," Hastert said. "But I'll let anybody else connect the dots." Asked if anyone was trying to intimidate him, Hastert answered, "I wouldn't say that. That's speculation."

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, whose department approved the search of Jefferson's office, has sought to ease tensions in the case. Since the raid, he spoke of his respect for Congress as a co-equal branch of government, claiming the search came only after Rep. Jefferson ignored a subpoena. But Hastert and other lamakers -- including, of course Rep. Jefferson himself -- have demanded the FBI return the materials it seized during the search.

President Bush has asked the Justice Department to seal all the documents and keep them for 45 days, when more facts may have emerged, and tempers have cooled.

In the corruption investigation of Rep. Jefferson, which a FBI search warrant identified as a man receiving a large bribe, the congressman has yet to be charged with any crime.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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Luke Burbank
Luke Burbank is kind of amazed that NPR is letting him co-host its new morning show, The Bryant Park Project, NPR's new morning news show launched on October 1, 2007.