Saturday, October 17, 2015

The Latest Denny Hastert Cover-Up-- And How That Undermines Law And Order


I guess I sound especially bloodthirsty the way I always advocate ultra-harsh sentences for politicians caught breaking the law. There's a reason for that, of course. Someone given a position of trust who abuses it should, of course, be held to a high standard. But there's more. History shows that if a politician gets away from criminal behavior, it encourages other politicians to give it a try. Saying, "well he served the community (or his state or country) so well, we should go easy on him," is the opposite of what we should be doing as a society. This special treatment for-- and sympathy-- for politicians who get caught in criminality is self-defeating for society. They don't deserve special consideration, unless special consideration means much harsher punishment.

And that brings us to former House Speaker, Denny Hastert, a corrupt Republican pile of crap who has a long history of anti-social behavior, not just of molesting boys but also of using his public office to line his own pockets. In 2006, when Rolling Stone named the 10 worst members of the worst Congress ever, Hastert was numero uno. Almost a decade ago, Tim Dickinson's blurb-- The Highway Robber: Dennis Hastert (R-Ill)-- summarizes the Culture of Corruption that sickens Americans about their political elites:
Hastert could well be the weakest House speaker in history. Tapped by Tom DeLay to serve as the mild-mannered frontman for the GOP leadership, the former wrestling coach ceded most of his power to the now-disgraced majority leader, allowing Republicans to treat the Capitol as their private piggy bank. Last year, Hastert got in on the action himself, secretly inserting $207 million into the budget for the "Prairie Parkway"-- a highway that will speed development of 210 acres he owns in Illinois. Before the year was out, Hastert sold part of his land-- soon to be the site of a sprawling subdivision-- for a profit of $2 million.

"Here's a guy who saw a chance to profit from his official acts and took it," says Bill Allison, who uncovered the late-night earmark as a senior analyst for the Sunlight Foundation, a nonpartisan watchdog group. "Most of us aren't speaker of the House, and most of us don't have a $200 million earmark running through our back yard. Hastert does, and he made a fortune from it."

The speaker at least functions as a bipartisan defender of congressional corruption. In February 2005, he purged the chairman of the House Ethics Committee for daring to admonish DeLay. And after Rep. William Jefferson's offices were raided by the FBI last spring, it was Hastert who lodged the strongest protest on the Louisiana Democrat's behalf.

Hastert is especially good at turning a blind eye to scandal: An aide says the speaker's office knew about Rep. Mark Foley's penchant for page boys three years ago, yet Hastert took no action to protect minors working for Congress.

In another secret budget deal, Hastert and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist joined forces last December to give the pharmaceutical industry a Christmas gift worth billions. After the "final" version of the defense budget emerged from conference, the duo added a provision that gives drug makers immunity from liability lawsuits-- shielding them from claims that their mercury-laden vaccines sparked the current autism epidemic.
Back in October 2006, we mentioned that heading into the midterm elections, No one is talking about Hastert's improper real estate deals now. And no one, except his Democratic opponent John Laesch, is mentioning much about the hundreds of thousands of dollars in legalized bribes he accepted to push a Big Business agenda that has been devastating to his middle class constituents, bringing them-- and us-- higher gas prices, higher drug prices, a devastated educational system, endless wars, polluted water and air... the whole panoply of what the Bush Regime is all about. Instead, people are asking why Hastert conspired to cover up Foley's predatory behavior towards young male pages for whose safety he was ultimately responsible.

Depending on which poll you look at, between 43 and 68% of Americans think Hastert should resign from Congress-- not just from the Speakership, from Congress! No matter what happens at the polls nationally in 4 weeks, Hastert will not be Speaker in January. His constituents in IL-14 should take that into consideration when they vote. Republican candidates certainly have.

Today the Prince of Darkness writes in his Chicago Sun-Times column that the Republican Party is in a bit of a pickle this week because of Hastert. The Party which is never embarrassed about anything, is embarrassed about what to do about the one-eyed elephant on the rocking chair. Or, as Novak puts it: "The survival of J. Dennis Hastert as speaker of the House of Representatives will produce an uncomfortable scene Thursday at the Hilton Chicago. President Bush is the principal attraction at a reception to fund congressional candidates in two suburban Chicago districts-- once thought safely Republican but where Democrats now lead. In the wake of the Mark Foley scandal, Hastert's presence at the reception will be an embarrassing distraction. 'We look on this as a Bush event, not a Hastert event,' an aide to one of the Republican candidates told this column. But the invitation to the $1,000-a-ticket Chicago fund-raiser lists Hastert, in large type, as its principal host. The speaker seems certain, unwittingly, to take attention away from the congressional candidates. As the most prominent Republican officeholder in Illinois, Hastert could not be removed from this event, as he has been from five congressional campaigns as of this writing."

A few weeks later, the House Republicans lost 30 seats and Hastert was forced to hand over the Speaker's gavel to Nancy Pelosi. There had been a swing of 5.5% of voters towards the Democrats in this midterm. Democrats picked up 2 seats in Arizona, one in California (where powerful Hastert ally Richard Pombo was finally dislodged), one in Colorado, two in Connecticut-- turning the state entirely blue-- two in Florida, three in Indiana, where right-wing loons Chris Chocola, John Hostettler and Mike Sodrel were all defeated, two in Iowa, one in Kansas, one in Kentucky, one in Minnesota, both New Hampshire's seats, three in New York, one in North Carolina, one in Ohio (where corrupt Republican Bob Ney was headed off to prison), four in Pennsylvania, one (DeLay's seat) in Texas, and one in Wisconsin. Soon after, Hastert announced he would be retiring from Congress.

But that didn't end the saga of Planet Denny Hastert. This week he agreed to a plea bargain that protects him from serious child rape charges while he only admits that he paid $3.5 million in hush money. He'll plead guilt October 28.
The plea negotiations, first revealed in a hearing late last month, mean many of the details surrounding Hastert's prosecution might never be publicly aired, including the identity of Individual A, the mysterious figure who prosecutors say took cash from Hastert to keep quiet about a dark history with him.

...Hastert, 73, pleaded not guilty in June to one count each of evading currency reporting requirements and lying to the FBI and remains free on his own recognizance. He did not attend Thursday's brief hearing.

Jeffrey Cramer, a former federal prosecutor, told the Tribune on Thursday that it was possible both sides have agreed to a specific prison sentence for Hastert as part of the plea deal. Hastert's attorneys could also reserve the right to seek probation for him.

Cramer also raised the possibility that the defense could seek to waive a sentencing hearing entirely to keep the salacious details underlying the charges from becoming public. That would be a highly unusual move, though, especially for such a high-profile case, and would require the approval of the judge.

"Dennis Hastert wants to avoid a sentencing hearing probably more than any other public official in history," said Cramer, who heads the Chicago security firm Kroll. "Normally a public figure wants to present all the good things he's done in his life. But that opens the door for prosecutors to bring in their own evidence."

The indictment unsealed in late May alleges that Hastert agreed to make $3.5 million in hush money payments to Individual A to cover up wrongdoing from Hastert's time as a high school teacher and wrestling coach in Yorkville. According to the charges, Hastert lied about the reasons he withdrew $952,000 in cash over the previous 2 1/2 years when the FBI questioned him in December.

Though the indictment only hints at the alleged wrongdoing, federal law enforcement sources have told the Tribune that Hastert was paying to cover up sexual abuse of a Yorkville High School student years ago. The FBI also interviewed a second person who raised similar allegations against Hastert, sources said.

Cramer said that prosecutors "are going to be looking for" a prison sentence for Hastert. In exchange, Hastert's attorneys could have negotiated for the plea agreement to leave out the details behind his payments to Individual A, he said.

"It could be pretty vanilla," he said. "The charges allege Mr. Hastert moved money around in structured withdrawals to avoid detection by authorities. There may be nothing in the plea agreement about why he did it. We may never know."
But we do know. Not all the "salacious details" of course, but it was no secret in DC-- although it was back home, of course-- that the anti-gay congressman from northern Illinois was actually gay himself. "Everyone" knew... except Illinois Republican voters back where Hastert had grown up and attended the local evangelical Christian college. Last month Chicago Magazine reported that "the town at the center of the molestation accusations still struggles to understand what may have happened." That would be Yorkville in Kendall County, Illinois (population 16,921-- up from 6,189 at the 2000 census, 1,500 when Hastert was growing up). The city is 96.99% white and the median household income is $60,391, about $7,000 higher than the medium household income for the state. Aside from Hastert, no one notable claims to be from Yorkville but comedian Andy Richter, Conan O'Brien's sidekick.
On May 28, Yorkville and the rest of the world would learn that Hastert, 73, had been indicted on charges of breaking federal banking rules regarding large cash withdrawals and lying to federal agents in order to conceal some unspecified “prior misconduct.” Prosecutors claim that since 2010 Hastert had been paying off someone, identified in court documents only as Individual A, to the tune of $3.5 million to keep quiet about this alleged misconduct.

The next day, various media outlets, citing law enforcement sources, reported that the unnamed recipient of Hastert’s alleged hush money was a former Yorkville High student who claimed that Hastert had sexually molested him decades earlier. A few days later, a Montana woman came forward, accusing Hastert of a years-long sexual relationship with her older brother in the late 1960s and early ’70s, when the boy was the student equipment manager for Yorkville’s wrestling team. (That man, Stephen Reinboldt, can’t be Individual A: Reinboldt died of AIDS in 1995, 15 years before Hastert began his alleged payments.)

Beyond the initial shock and awe (“Hometown Rocked by Scandal,” “Shadow over All-American Town”), virtually nothing was written about Yorkville, where the alleged abuse took place. As the days went by, unanswered questions nagged at me. If Hastert had indeed sexually abused Reinboldt and Individual A when he was a high school coach and teacher, I wondered, could there be more victims? And in a tiny place where everybody knew everybody’s business, how could such behavior have stayed secret for so long?

...On one thing everyone can agree: one can agree: Dennis Hastert was obsessed with wrestling. Even in class, “wrestling was all he ever talked about,” said Jeff Nix, 63, a former Yorkville High wrestler who graduated in 1970. (He currently owns a shop in nearby Plano that digitizes old videotapes.) “When we took history with him, we talked about wrestling. When we took government, we talked about wrestling.”

The coach set out to build not just a winning program but a dominating dynasty, Nix told me. He devoted innumerable hours to his young charges: before class, after class, in the gym. He scheduled tougher competition against bigger schools. He got his student wrestlers terry-cloth robes so they could feel like prizefighters. He took vanloads of boys to wrestling camp in Virginia, where they learned the famous Granby roll, an advanced escape move that was virtually unknown here at the time.

Hastert’s involvement with young people went beyond sports and academics. He also volunteered at the International YMCA and led an Explorer Scout group, chaperoning male students to the Grand Canyon and on diving trips in the Bahamas. And he liked to take kids for rides in his Porsche 911. “Denny was a bachelor at the time,” recalled Nix. (Hastert married Jean Kahl, a Yorkville gym teacher, in 1973, when he was 31.) “And he got a brand-new Porsche every year. A red one, a black one, a blue one. Back then, it was a pretty hot car. All of us liked cars. We thought that was cool.”

Each year, the Yorkville Foxes got better. As they did, the old gymnasium where the high school held its wrestling meets, known as the Pit, began to fill to capacity with, as the yearbook put it, “vivacious crowds.” That was no exaggeration, longtime Yorkville residents told me: The meets were town-wide events. “The days when Denny was here, it was the biggest thing,” said Frank Babich, who was Yorkville High’s principal from 1985 to 2003.

Hastert’s wrestling teams racked up a trophy case’s worth of medals and titles: 14 conference, six regional, and four sectional championships; second- and third-place finishes in 1974, 1977, 1978, and 1979; and, of course, the top prize in 1976. Forty-eight of Hastert’s wrestlers qualified for the state tournament, more than half of them placed, and eight won individual championships. In 2003, Hastert was inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame.

Echoing the dozen or so former Hastert wrestlers who have spoken to reporters, Nix said that he was dumbfounded by the accusations against his old coach. “If it’s true, I don’t have a clue why no one knew,” Nix said. “Back then, if you got a crewcut at the barbershop, everybody knew you got a crewcut before you got to school. There were no secrets anywhere. Maybe we just all had our blinders on. Maybe we had the wool over our eyes.”

From everything I'd heard about the legendary political kingmaker of Kendall County, I figured he would choose a power spot to meet for lunch, some dark-paneled, white-tablecloth restaurant that served thick steaks, where we’d sit in his regular booth and get sucked up to by the old-timey maître d’. But Dallas Ingemunson wanted Buffalo wings. So we met at Wings Etc., a franchise restaurant with loud music and flat-screens galore in a nondescript strip mall a couple of doors down from a Dollar General...[T]he quintessential big fish in a small pond, for more than three decades, he made or broke local political careers-- most famously, Hastert’s.

Over those wings, Ingemunson recalled the first time he met Hastert: “He came to me in my state’s attorney’s office one day and said, ‘I’m gonna run for the statehouse, and as a matter of courtesy, I’m telling you.’” Ingemunson giggled in a high-pitched titter that belied his age. “He wasn’t asking.”

Hastert lost that race, a primary campaign in 1980. But Ingemunson came away impressed by his work ethic, his moxie, and his seemingly genuine desire to help people. “Some people want to get into the political business and I question why they’re doing it. I never questioned Denny’s reasons. Whether it be in sports or politics, or whatever else, he’s always wanted to help people.”

Ingemunson described how Hastert was able to rise from wrestling coach to the heights of power in Washington. Thanks to Ingemunson’s maneuvering, when an incumbent died unexpectedly not long before the 1981 election, Republican Party leaders put Hastert on the ticket for the Illinois House. Several years later, after another congressional incumbent had to withdraw because of poor health, Ingemunson again helped slate Hastert. Both times the candidate ran in considerably shortened campaigns, avoiding public primary contests altogether. In doing so, he circumvented much of the intense scrutiny that candidates typically face.

Hastert’s eventual ascension to the speakership was practically accidental. His fellow Republicans hastily drafted him into the role during a media frenzy that focused on the extramarital misdeeds of his two predecessors, Newt Gingrich and Bob Livingston. (Hastert was viewed as the safe, no-skeletons-in-the-closet choice.) In Hastert’s 2004 memoir, his longtime chief of staff half jokingly summed up his boss’s charmed path to the speaker’s chair: “Illness, illness, scandal, and dumb luck.”

But his rise wasn’t all happenstance. Hastert also appeared to have in spades two qualities that the best politicians possess: relatability and trustworthiness. It’s nearly impossible to find a profile of or anecdote about the man in which he isn’t hailed as a “straight shooter” or a “regular guy.” Plain of appearance (“He looks like an unmade bed,” a Democratic pol once described him) and of speech (“He speaks in a sticky downstate-Illinois monotone,” the author Jonathan Franzen observed in a 2003 New Yorker profile), Denny epitomized the ordinariness of his hometown. As a Yorkville resident told the Sun-Times the day after Hastert was named speaker in 1998: “He was the kind of guy you see at Pizza Hut.”

Once in office, Hastert kept a low profile. Friends say that he never sought out the political limelight, which he was by nature ill suited for anyway. Neither did his wife. Jean shunned the campaign trail and the political social circuit, staying in Yorkville (Hastert shared an apartment in D.C. with Scott Palmer, his chief of staff) and keeping her gym teacher job as she raised their two sons. (Josh, 40, works as a lobbyist in D.C., and Ethan, 37, is a lawyer and a partner at Mayer Brown in Chicago.) “I think people respected that Denny never got caught up in the celebrity Washington power structure,” said Ray LaHood, the former Illinois congressman and U.S. secretary of transportation and a longtime friend of Hastert’s. “He never forgot where he came from.”

It endeared Hastert to the town that even as he became a figure in American history books, famous around the world, he never acted like he was bigger than Yorkville. “Not a lot of people have come out of here and been successful and stayed,” another local Republican insider told me. “To say he was the patron saint of the town is no exaggeration at all.”

Hastert’s knack for getting along with people-- he had lots of political allies-- also kept him from being a target of those looking to dredge up personal dirt. After that one close first race for Congress, he cruised to reelection every two years, facing little to no scrutiny and typically winning 2 to 1, sometimes 3 to 1, over the Democratic sacrificial lambs.

Another reason constituents loved Hastert: He consistently handed out more pork than a swine barn holds at a county fair. He funneled hundreds of millions of federal dollars toward transit and infrastructure projects in Kendall County and the rest of his district, for example, including the ultimately scrapped Prairie Parkway, which would have connected Interstates 80 and 88 and for which Hastert earmarked $207 million. Once he even slipped $250,000 for the Yorkville candy company Amurol Confections, a subsidiary of the chewing gum giant Wrigley (now part of Mars), into the federal defense budget. (The funds were to study a caffeinated gum; Hastert claimed the project would create 400 jobs.) Due in part to such largess, Kendall was the fastest-growing county in the nation-- you read that right-- from 2000 to 2010, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

Hastert managed to shrug off controversies that could have torpedoed other politicians’ careers, from the House check-cashing scandal in 1992 to various dustups involving his mentor in the House, Texas firebrand Tom DeLay. Consider the 2006 revelation by a nonpartisan D.C. watchdog group, the Sunlight Foundation, that Hastert, Ingemunson, and their old Yorkville friend Thomas Klatt had amassed 130-plus acres of farmland near the proposed route of the Prairie Parkway. The trio quickly flipped the land, and Hastert raked in a cool $2 million profit. Critics assailed the “Hastert Highway” deal, likening it to insider trading. (“Highway Robbery,” Salon harrumphed.) But the scandal barely registered on Yorkville’s public outrage meter. If it wasn’t illegal, why couldn’t Denny make a buck like anyone else? Besides, for everything he’d done for the town and the rest of the district-- heck, for the whole country-- over the years, he deserved it and then some.

A few months later came Pagegate. As you’ll recall, in September 2006, Republican representative Mark Foley of Florida abruptly resigned after it was revealed that he was sending sexually suggestive emails and instant messages to young male congressional pages. It soon came out, in the press and after a House ethics committee investigation, that at least two of Hastert’s colleagues, including John Boehner, had warned the speaker about Foley’s graphic emails months earlier. Hastert failed to intervene, and Foley’s reckless behavior continued.

After his 2007 retirement, Hastert told the Daily Herald that he and other Republican leaders “did what we could with what we knew.” The ethics committee found “a disconcerting unwillingness to take responsibility for resolving issues regarding Representative Foley’s conduct.” Nevertheless, Yorkville once again gave its hometown hero a pass.

...Robyn Sutcliffe has lived in Yorkville for 21 years. One afternoon I stopped at her ice-cream shop, Foxy’s, a cheerful pastel-painted shack right on the banks of the Fox River, in the heart of downtown. I asked her why so few people around Yorkville seemed to believe the allegations against Hastert. She plugged her ears and chanted, “La, la, la, la, la!

“People just don’t want to believe it,” she finally said. “People don’t want to think badly of someone they love and respect. And Denny’s just so well loved.”

Among some Yorkville residents, however, doubts were beginning to settle in, for two main reasons: the huge sum of money allegedly involved and Hastert’s silence.

In Yorkville-- where the median single-family house sells for about $200,000-- $3.5 million is practically Trump-like. Even some Hastert supporters can’t explain why on earth he would have agreed to pay somebody so much money. “Jeez, it’s staggering,” said his friend Klatt, 76. Wondered Nix, the former wrestler: “What was he paying somebody for? If it wasn’t for [those alleged payments], I wouldn’t believe any of [the sexual allegations].”

Then there were the lengths to which Hastert allegedly went to conceal the payments: accounts at four different banks in the area; 15 withdrawals of $50,000 each between June 2010 and April 2012, which bank officials began asking him about; then, prosecutors say, scores more withdrawals of increments below $10,000 each-- an illegal practice called structuring. “I think it’s obvious the only reason to do that is to hide it from the wife and kids,” said a Republican insider who asked not to be named.

Other than the not-guilty plea entered by his lawyers, Hastert has said nothing publicly about the allegations in the indictment or-- more troubling around here-- about the sexual abuse accusations. Of course, defense lawyers generally think it’s a bad idea for their clients to say much, if anything. (Through his attorney, Thomas Green, Hastert declined my interview request.) But to a lot of folks here, legal rationales don’t mean squat. They see honesty as a more straightforward concept, straight from the lesson of George Washington and the cherry tree: If you did it, own up to it. If you didn’t, speak up. Defend yourself.

...[H]ow could the secret have stayed hidden for so long? I called Carla van Dam, a psychologist in Washington State and a noted expert in child sexual abuse. Instead of answering my question directly, she told me the story of Gary Little.

Little had coerced teenage boys into having sex with him in the 1970s when he was a young lawyer and a teacher at an exclusive prep school. Even as Little went on to become an assistant state’s attorney general and then chief counsel for the Seattle School District, his victims apparently said nothing.

Little was elected to the King County Superior Court in Seattle in 1980. By 1981, a judicial commission had reprimanded the judge-- privately-- for taking children to his home. Little continued seeing youths outside the courthouse, but that same commission did nothing. In 1985, he was transferred to nonjuvenile cases.

One day in August 1988, Little learned that theSeattle Post-Intelligencer would be publishing a story about his secret life the next morning. A few hours later, he shot himself in the head in the hallway outside his chambers.

After Little’s suicide, it became clear just how many people had known his secret. Lawyers who handled juvenile cases were aware of the judge’s sexual predilection for blond, blue-eyed boys. When they had clients who fit that description, they would try to get their cases assigned to him in the hopes of a more favorable ruling. Many in the media, too, had found out about Little’s behavior by the mid-’80s but didn’t go public. One TV reporter even confessed that he had walked in on Little kissing a male student two decades earlier. “Everybody knew,” said van Dam, “but nobody knew.”

Though she stressed that she wasn’t privy to any details of the Hastert case beyond those in news reports, van Dam said that she has studied enough cases over the years to be dubious of the public narrative that has emerged so far. “People know. Especially in small towns, people know who the drunk is on the block. People know. They choose to do nothing because it’s too hard.”

According to Sarah K. Cowan, a sociology professor at New York University who studies secrecy, several forces could have been at work here. Sometimes well-meaning people keep quiet in the belief that they are protecting victims from damaging attention-- especially common in sexual abuse cases. Add a powerful figure into the mix and their hesitation to speak grows, Cowan told me. The likelihood of secrets spreading about people in positions of authority often depends on whether those secrets are likely to be believed. “To accuse a beloved community leader of something salacious and illegal and then not to be believed?” Cowan said. “The accuser would be an outcast.”

I immediately thought of what Burdge recalled her brother saying when she asked him why he hadn’t told anyone about Hastert: In this town, who is ever going to believe me?
DWT has made a habit of exposing homophobic office holders who, like Hastert, are gay themselves and living in the closet. For over a year before Mark Foley (R-FL) was caught and forced to resign, we had done dozens of posts about him and young boys. We were always accused of lying by dim-witted Republicans. Same in cases like Larry Craig (R-ID), Patrick McHenry (R-NC), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), David Dreier (R-CA), Jim McCrery (R-LA), Adrian Smith (R-NE), Phil English (R-PA), Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Aaron Schock (R-IL)... I remember a Blue Dog on the East Coast who didn't like very much-- horrible voting record and very gay. I couldn't wait for him to take an anti-gay vote so I could expose him. He never did though-- and I never did expose him, not even today.

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At 8:20 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bravo Howie. THAT is an excellent post on the Life and Times of Denny Hastert, Teacher-Coach-Speaker-Alleged Pedophile.

Good coverage on the Prairie Parkway too, he didn't really get away with it completely, but he obviously got his money. Shockingly brazen. The property was in his wife's trust undeclared.

Hastert also had a shameful legacy not only leading the charge into defending the imminent threat to the US from Iraq's WMDS with somebody else's children, (another sissyhawk), Hastert also lead massive Republican cuts in college education during his tenure.

Really terrifying when you grok the Tom Delay puppet aspect of this man, SECOND in line for the presidency. Ick.

At 9:37 PM, Blogger tamtam said...

Great job. I knew Hastert was shit, but this just nailed it

At 12:12 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Amen Tamtam. Hastert was Tom Delay's shit. They both should be in JAIL.
I wouldn't put them in the same cell though.


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