Dennis Hastert Defends Turkey Trip as ‘Exclusively Within the Rules ‘

National Journal investigation found Hastert used a loophole in the lobbyist-lawmaker travel restrictions to bring members on a free trip abroad.

Former House Speaker Dennis Hastert (C) of Illinois is congratuated by members of Congress during the unveiling ceremony of his portrait at the U.S. Capitol July 28, 2009 in Washington, DC.  
National Journal
Shane Goldmacher
Jan. 16, 2014, 6:10 a.m.

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.”

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