Hastert: Why Now?
As is now widely known, Dennis Hastert, the longest-serving Republican Speaker of the House of Representatives, was indicted the other day for making improper cash withdrawals from a bank account and for lying to the FBI.
It turns out the cash withdrawals were a payoff to “individual A” as an inducement to “cover up past misconduct.” The unreported withdrawals represented about half of the $3.5 million agreed upon by Hastert and individual A.
It has since emerged that Hastert was paying a former student in Yorkville, Illinois to keep quiet about allegations of sexual abuse while he was a teacher and wrestling coach.
All of that could be read anywhere so why bother writing it again?
Former Congressman Hastert’s teaching and coaching career began in 1965 and ended in 1981.
Counting on my fingers, it appears that the transgressions with individual A would have occurred at least 34 years ago and perhaps as many as 50 years ago.
Without diminishing the gravity of the offense, one might wonder why bring the problem up now especially when the statute of limitations has long since run.
In addition, this is now a criminal case, which will result in no benefit to individual A beyond the $3.5 million that presumably seemed satisfactory to him when he agreed to it in 2010.
True, former elected officials should not lie to the FBI. True, former elected officials should not be making $50,000 cash withdrawals without complying with federal disclosure requirements that might even have been voted upon approvingly by the former elected official in question. Absolutely true, teachers and coaches, whether or not they later become the longest serving Republican speaker of the House of Representatives, should not be anywhere close to “allegations of sexual abuse.”
Why is this case being brought today?
Former House Speaker Hastert headed the lobbying practice of the Washington DC law firm, Dickstein Shapiro LLP.
When all of this came to light, he promptly resigned from both the law firm and various boards upon which he served. The usual legal theater relating to the innocence of the accused, witch-hunt and the likelihood of clearing his name at trial was notably absent.
The offenses charged (improper withdrawals and lying, not sexual misconduct) seem readily provable but, on balance, also seem relatively trivial. The point of charging him seems more likely to be related to the allegations of sexual misconduct that would surely emerge, as they have, in the press.
Why? Why now?
If I were a reporter covering this story, here is a question I would ask the prosecutors and the Department of Justice: is this a payback for some lobbying or regulatory effort being made by Hastert or his law firm?
The popularity of House of Cards and Scandal, television shows that depict Washington hardball politics in a distinctly negative light, suggests that many would readily believe Congressman Hastert was being punished for getting in the way of some government objective. And, presumably, getting away with it sufficiently successfully to require the introduction of the heavy artillery.
Former FBI Director, J. Edgar Hoover, was known to have had dirt on most of the powerful figures in Washington but he must have believed the dirt had greater value before being reveled than it would after. Would that not still be the case?
Now, how about a plot twist? What if this case was being used to arm-twist somebody other than Hastert? “See what we did to him? Back off or we’ll do it to you.”
All yours, screen writers. It’s my gift.
If, in fact, there is more to the story than first appears I will not be among those to profess surprise.