House Speaker Dennis Hastert might sue ABC News for libel and defamation for a news report that said he was “in the mix” in a corruption investigation, according to a letter sent by Hastert’s lawyer on Thursday.
The letter from Hastert counsel J. Randolph Evans said statements in ABC’s report constitute libel and defamation, and asked who could “accept service of process to remedy this intentional falsehood.”
Citing anonymous law enforcement sources, ABC News reported on Wednesday that Hastert was under scrutiny in an FBI corruption investigation centered around former lobbyist Jack Abramoff.
ABC updated its story later to say Hastert was not a formal “target” or “subject” of the investigation, but was “in the mix.”
Hastert’s spokesman called the story “absolutely untrue” and demanded a retraction, and the Justice Department said the story was wrong.
At the Capitol, Hastert told Reuters: “They made an accusation. The Justice Department denied it.”
Abramoff pleaded guilty to corrupting members of Congress in January and is cooperating with investigators as they examine his links to several Republican lawmakers.
Three former Republican aides have also pleaded guilty in the probe.
“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,” Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty said in a statement late Wednesday.
ABC News reporter Brian Ross said he stood by his story.
“The people we’re talking to feel very strongly about what they told us,” Ross said in a telephone interview.
ABC has not yet been served with legal papers from Hastert’s attorney, Ross and ABC News spokesman Jeffrey Schneider said.
In his letter to ABC, Evans said, “We will take any and all actions necessary to rectify the harm ABC has caused and to hold those at ABC responsible for their conduct.”
Evans was not immediately reachable for comment.
The ABC News report said investigators were looking at a letter Hastert wrote three years ago, urging the secretary of the Interior Department to block a casino on an Indian reservation that would have competed with casinos of tribes represented by Abramoff.
Hastert wrote the letter shortly after he held a fund-raising event that took in $26,000 from Abramoff and his clients, the report said.