Drugs

Soros Blasts Hastert Over 'Drug Money' Allegation

Philanthropist George Soros demands a public apology after being the subject of a bizarre smear by Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert.
George Soros, the billionaire financier and philanthropist who has given millions of dollars to progressive and Democratic-leaning advocacy groups, launched a blistering counterattack on Speaker J.  Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) yesterday, saying he should be "ashamed" of allegations he made Sunday.

Hastert had suggested that Soros' wealth came from criminals, and in a letter Soros challenged the Speaker to substantiate his claims or publicly apologize.

In a tartly worded demand faxed to Hastert, Soros wrote: "Your recent comments implying that I am receiving funds from drug cartels are not only untrue, but also deeply offensive.  You do a discredit to yourself and to the dignity of your office by engaging in these dishonest smear tactics.  You should be ashamed.

"I must respectfully insist that you either substantiate these claims - – which you cannot do because they are false – or publicly apologize for attempting to defame my character and damage my reputation."

The spat began in an interview on Fox News with anchor Chris Wallace, in which Hastert said, "You know, I don't know where George Soros gets his money.  I don't know where – if it comes overseas or from drug groups or where it comes from."

Asked if Soros had earned money from drug cartels, Hastert added, "Well, that's what he's been for a number years – George Soros has been for legalizing drugs in this country.  So, I mean, he's got a lot of ancillary interests out there.  ...  I'm saying I don't know where groups – could be people who support this type of thing.  I'm saying we don't know."

Soros, a Hungarian Jewish immigrant, earned billions from investments and currency speculation. In 1992, he bet $10 billion that the British central bank would devalue the pound. The gamble paid off and Soros earned $650 million that year. Soros Fund Management LLC was hammered in the late 1990s and Soros has since retired, although he remains chairman.

In 1993, he started the Open Society Institute, which promotes democracy in Eastern Europe and around the world. He began funding programs to reform the U.S. justice system several years later. As part of that effort, he has funded marijuana-legalization referendums in California and Arizona. Besides the Open Society Institute, Soros is also a major contributor to the International Crisis Group, a Brussels-based operation that monitors violence in global hot spots.

But he is most widely known in this election season as a big contributor to MoveOn.org; the Center for American Progress, a Democratic think tank; and America Coming Together, a so-called 527 political group that is exempt from limits on campaign contributions.

John Feehery, a spokesman for Hastert, said, "George Soros has an agenda.  He supports the legalization of drugs, and the statement stands. [Hastert] has been fighting Soros on this for years because it is a character flaw. The Speaker thinks legalizing drugs is wrong."

Soros was unavailable for comment.

Documents filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) say that no company official in Soros's investment fund is involved in a criminal proceeding or a party to a civil proceeding.

Feehery cited no evidence and would not comment on whether Hastert would ask law enforcement to investigate.

Soros told The Washington Post last year: "America, under Bush, is a danger to the world.  . . .   And I'm willing to put my money where my mouth is."

Conservatives have sought to discredit Soros by attacking his foreign and Jewish roots and his support of liberal causes, and by saying that his currency speculation actually hurt the very people he claims to want to help.

"No other single person represents the symbol and the substance of globalism more than this Hungarian-born descendant of Shylock. He is the embodiment of the Merchant from Venice," wrote GOPAC, an organization that helps elect GOP candidates, on its website last year.

In William Shakespeare's "Merchant of Venice," Shylock was the Jewish banker whose venality would not stop him from cutting human flesh to repay loans.

Tony Blankley, the editorial page editor of The Washington Times, said Soros is "a robber baron, he's a pirate capitalist, and he's a reckless man" in an interview on Fox News.

Democrats were quick to criticize Hastert's latest suggestion. "That's totally absurd. It fits a pattern of simply throwing out whatever slander occurs to them [the Republicans]," said Matt Bennett, a spokesman for the Democratic National Committee in New York. "This is what the Republican leadership does. They lie about people."

No Knockdowns Yet

Public hostilities between House Speaker J.  Dennis Hastert ( R-Ill.) and George Soros, the billionaire donor to the Democratic Party, went into overdrive yesterday.

In a letter, the Speaker chided the activist philanthropist for his efforts to legalize recreational drug use and received in return a second demand for a public apology.

Yesterday, the Speaker neither apologized nor backed up his suggestion but said he was referring to drug-legalization pressure groups rather than criminal cartels. That cut no ice with Soros, who is considering suing Hastert for slander, said his spokesman, Michael Vachon. Hastert spokesman John Feehery did not return a call for comment.

In his letter yesterday, Hastert wrote: "I never implied that you were a criminal and I never would, that's not my style," adding that he was criticizing the nonprofit organizations Soros has funded, including "the Drug Policy Foundation, the Open Society, the Lendesmith [sic] Center, the Andean Council of Coca Leaf Producers, and several ballot initiatives across the country to decriminalize illegal drug use."

On Fox News on Sunday Hastert did not criticize Soros's choice of where he donates money. Instead, Hastert said: "You know, I don't know where George Soros gets his money.  I don't know where – if it comes from overseas or from drug groups or where it comes from."

Soros wrote: "I can only assume that you launched your bogus charge in a feeble attempt to deflect my criticism of the administration's failed policies.... You are attempting to stifle critical debate and intimidate those who believe this administration is leading the country in a ruinous direction. Now that I have called you on your false accusation, you are using additional smear tactics."

Soros concluded, "Your reply willfully misrepresents my positions on drug policy.  ...  Your conduct does not reflect creditably on the House of Representatives."
Jonathan E. Kaplan is a staff reporter for The Hill.
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