Lobbyist and former House Speaker Dennis Hastert defended the all-expenses-paid trip for eight lawmakers to Turkey last year that he attended and his firm helped arrange.
"What we did was exclusively within the rules—meticulously," Hastert said on Thursday.
Most lobbyist travel abroad with lawmakers was banned more than six years ago in reforms passed in the wake of the Jack Abramoff scandal. But the trip to Turkey, which National Journal first revealed last week, was planned by the firms of Hastert and Dick Gephardt, another former House leader and current lobbyist, on behalf of Turkey. A loophole in the law allows lobbyists to plan and attend trips overseas if they are paid for by foreign countries, even as similar corporate-funded excursions are banned.
Hastert said his and Gephardt's involvement in the Turkey trip "allowed those members of Congress who were there to have a fuller experience."
"I think we added to the equation," Hastert said. "Both Mr. Gephardt and I were able to open some doors that all lawmakers wouldn't necessarily have been able to do on their own," citing meetings with the Turkish prime minister, the president, and other cabinet ministers.
Hastert and Gephardt, whose firms split most of a $1.4 million annual lobbying contract from Turkey, had both declined to answer questions for the initial story. Hastert spoke with National Journal following an event about the 2014 elections on Thursday.
Hastert deflected a question about whether the face time abroad would benefit his lobbying practice. "We didn't spend a lot of time with the members," he said, adding, "Our role was to best serve the members of Congress and give them the best experience they possibly could and that's what we did."