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Dennis J. Hastert’s Public Hell: After Tilting the US House to the Right, He is Punished by Revelations of His Hypocrisy

2016-04-23

Perhaps you remember Dennis J. Hastert.  Mr. Hastert’s highest position was Speaker of the US House of Representatives.  He served in the House from 1987 to 2007.  Before that, he was in the Illinois State House of Representatives from 1981 to 1986; his biggest accomplishment in Illinois was preventing the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment in Illinois.  Before entering politics, he was a teacher from 1965 to 1981 at Yorkville High School in the suburbs of Chicago; he coached wrestling and soccer.  He also became a born-again Christian while a sophomore in high school.  (All these items are from Wikipedia.)

After being kicked out of the Speakership of Congress in 2007 by voters who elected Nancy Pelosi Speaker of the House (for two years) Hastert left his position in November 2007; a special election to succeed him resulted in the election of a Democrat, Fermilab scientist Bill Foster.  Hastert made a fortune in real estate while in the US House; he entered Congress with a net worth of about a quarter of a million dollars and left the House worth over 4 million and up to 11 million.  He redoubled his fortune as a lobbyist and even registered as an agent for the countries of Luxembourg and Turkey; he was an active lobbyist for the ethanol in motor vehicle fuel industry (a boondoggle I have denounced elsewhere.)

While he was in Congress and afterwards, as a lobbyist, he skated close to the legal limits on conflicts of interest and bribery, and was close to representatives who were indicted like Tom DeLay and Mark Foley.  While he was Speaker of the House, he was responsible for tilting the House rules towards increasing partisanship; for example, a rule called the Hastert Rule prevented a bill from going to a vote unless the majority of the majority party favored it, reducing the chances for controversial but bipartisan bills to make it to a vote.  He was a right-wing extremist, he favored the War on Drugs and opposed the clean needle program, he was against abortion under any circumstances, and he endorsed heavy penalties for sex offenders.

So it will be no surprise that he was found to be guilty of the rankest hypocrisy.  He finally pleaded guilty to structured withdrawals of cash to avoid bank reporting requirements and will be sentenced in a few days.  Like Al Capone being found guilty of tax evasion, structured withdrawals had nothing to do with Hastert’s real crimes.  In fact, Hastert was withdrawing cash to avoid publicity for the recipient of the cash, who turned out to be a former high school wrestler who had been coached by Hastert.  This young man had been sexually touched and massaged by Hastert when he was alone with him.

What was much, much worse was the story that emerged when the prosecutors wrote their recommendations to the judge for Hastert’s sentencing on the structuring charge; I suggest that if you have read this far, you should take the link to the recommendations, which are conveniently on the documentcloud dot org site.  It seems that a young man who had been a wrestler in high school had been Hastert’s “partner” during the entire four years he was there, until 1971.  The young man turned out to be gay, and he died of AIDS in 1995.  In 1980, he told his sister what Hastert had done to him.  At the young man’s funeral, which Hastert attended, the sister confronted Hastert, and he did not deny her allegations.

Hastert, who has diabetes, suffered a stroke after he pled guilty last fall, and was near death for a time.  He developed sepsis and had surgery while in the hospital.  He was released from the hospital in mid-January.  His sentencing hearing has been repeatedly delayed, this last time in order to allow yet another person to speak at the hearing.  The sister mentioned in the last paragraph also intends to speak.

I was also surprised to learn that the Olympic Games has dropped wrestling as of 2016.  Many high school and college wrestling programs in the US have been dropped and there have been several scandals involving sexual misconduct by wrestling coaches.  It seems that karma has come back and bitten Mr. Hastert in the nether regions.  You who have advocated against human decency and forbearance towards others beware: you could come to a downfall too.

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