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Standoff Over Speaker Story Continues

Washington Post media watcher Howard Kurtz digs into the controversy over a report by ABC News' Brian Ross that has brought denials and denunciations from House Speaker Dennis Hastert. On Wednesday, Ross reported that the investigation revolving around convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff included Hastert (see here for the tick-tock on the reporting and denials). The Justice Department has denied the story and Hastert has asked for a retraction. Kurtz interviewed Ross, who said of the report:

I think our story is accurate. We've gone back to our sources, and they believe what we reported was accurate as they knew it. There seems to be some disconnect between what the congressman thinks, what the Justice Department thinks and what the FBI thinks. . . . There may be a semantics issue here as to what constitutes being under investigation.
On ABC's "World News Tonight" and on the network's Web site Ross is standing by the story. Here's what Ross reported knowing last night:
That the FBI interrogation of convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff included specific and repeated questions about his relationship with Speaker Hastert along with other members of Congress.

That, although Hastert is not a formal target, the FBI has been looking into a letter Hastert and others sent to the Secretary of the Interior urging her to block an Indian casino that would have competed with casinos represented by Abramoff.

That a few days before the letter was sent, Abramoff hosted a fundraiser for Hastert at a restaurant he owned.

Ross noted that Hastert yesterday indicated to WGN radio in Chicago that the report might be part of an effort on the part of the FBI to "intimidate people" after the Speaker's denunciation of the agency's raid of Democratic Congressman William Jefferson's office last week. Ross was also careful both in reporting the story and speaking to Kurtz to emphasize that any investigation may end up determining no wrongdoing, telling The Post it "could wash out and be nothing." Stay tuned.
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