The Hastert Highway is back in the news, thanks to a Fox News Channel investigation into congressmen who have allegedly benefitted from their own earmarks.
“In February 2004, Hastert, with partners and through a trust that did not bear his name, bought up 69 acres of land that adjoined his farm some 60 miles outside Chicago. The price was $340,000. In May 2005, Hastert transferred an additional 69 acres from his farm into the trust,” Fox reports.
“Two months later, Congress passed a spending bill into which Hastert inserted a $207 million earmark to fund the ‘Prairie Parkway’ which, when completed, would run just a few miles from the 138 acres owned by Hastert’s trust.
“After President Bush flew to Hastert’s district in August 2005 to sign the bill, Hastert and his partners flipped the land for what appeared to be a multi-million dollar profit.”
That much close followers already knew. But the best part is the e-mail correspondence between Fox and Hastert’s lawyer, who is obviously well-practiced in evasion. Via Fox:
From: Evans, Randy
To: Gaffney, Brian
Sent: Fri May 30 12:03:44 2008
Subject: RE: Fox News Earmarks program
Thanks for the email. It is odd that having been the point person for addressing these issues since they were first raised that I have not heard from any of your folks, (especially since I have been the one to address them in most of the reported stories/blogs). Having reviewed all of the information carefully (and repeatedly), we do not believe there is a story here that involves Speaker Hastert.
Under your characterization of the story, Speaker Hastert could have never supported any legislation or programs that helped his district since he owned property (his home and then the property adjacent to his home) in the district. Following the programs inferences, any member who invests in his own district could never help his district. In the case of Speaker Hastert, to suggest that one prompted the other (owning property prompted his support for the Prairie Parkway Project or his support for the Prairie Parkway Project prompted his ownership of his home and adjacent property) is simply untrue and contradicted by the facts. There is nothing that Speaker Hastert can add to those facts. He supported the Project long before his purchase, and he lived in the district long before he joined Congress. If you would like to discuss, please do not hesitate to contact me, but this is not overly complicated. Any suggestion of improper or illegal conduct, byinference or innuendo, would be false.
Thanks for your consideration and what I know will be a fair and balanced program.
J. Randy Evans
From: Gaffney, Brian
Sent: Thursday, May 29, 2008 7:53 PM
To: Evans, Randy
Subject: Fox News Earmarks program
Dear Mr. Evans,
As the Executive Producer of the Fox News Documentary Unit, I am overseeing the production of our program on earmarks. One of the producers of the hour, Jason Kopp, forwarded me your e-mail.
Our producers have made repeated requests to interview Speaker Hastert over the last weeks and months. We also tried to contact Speaker Hastert’s business partner to request an interview. I have personally tried to telephone Brad Hahn several times to arrange to interview Speaker Hastert on this story.
I believe your e-mail is the first thing we have received that approaches a statement from the Speaker. Though it is coming late in the day, I genuinely appreciate your note and have instructed the producers to re-edit the documentary so we can include a quote from it.
I also want to extend through you one last invitation to Speaker Hastert to sit down and talk with us on camera for this program. Since we are airing Saturday night, we would have do the interview no later than Friday.
Please contact me as soon as possible – tonight, preferably – so I can make arrangements for the interview. E-mail is best; I carry a blackberry.
Very truly yours,
Fox News Documentary Unit
As you might guess, Hastert continued his refusal to comment.