Victims, Victimizers, and Hypocrites: The Dennis Hastert Affair

12-20-98 Copy photo from 1976 Yorkville Yearbook which shows Dennis Hastert who coached the 1976 state champion wrestling team...

Former Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert, the longest serving GOP Speaker in history, has been indicted for lying to the FBI and elaborately evading reporting requirements on large cash withdrawals for  payments he allegedly made to a male former student whom Hastert sexually abused while he was a high school wrestling coach over 30 years ago. If you want to read what is known about the unfolding Washington scandal s far, as well as partisan attempts at spin, you can try Politico, The Week, Talking Points Memo, OpenSecrets.orgWashington Post, Bloomberg Business, The National Memo, NBC News, Washington Monthly, Outside the Beltway, The Hill, Daily Mail, Patterico’s Pontifications and The Daily Kos.

Ethics observations:

1. This is a personal and professional tragedy, no matter what else may be true. Hastert has a family, and once had a career and a relatively solid reputation. The family is still there, though wounded; the rest is gone, presumably forever.

2. Assuming that what is coming out as the reason Hastert was paying millions in hush money is in fact true, he abused his position of trust as a teacher and committed a heinous crime. Nothing that he did subsequently as a public servant, or endured as a consequence of his actions, mitigates the seriousness of that misconduct.

3. That he went on from this betrayal of trust and law to have a successful and productive career in public service is to his credit. It does not justify his concealing his earlier crime, or avoiding accountability for it.

4. The unnamed student was and is a victim. He is also apparently a blackmailer, and Hastert is, in turn, a victim of extortion. Blackmail is itself a terrible crime. Hastert’s former student is neither justified in nor relieved of full responsibility for his own crime because of his mistreatment by Hastert as a child all those decades ago.

UPDATE: Legal ethics expert Stephen Gillers argues that this is not blackmail, but rather a private settlement arrangement, which the law and public policy encourages.  I have my doubts about this. Certainly a long-term, never ending, demand for money backed with threats of personal ruin becomes, if not illegal, then the unethical equivalent of extortion.

5. Geraldo Rivera is being excoriated because he referred to Hastert as a victim, and suggested in a tweet that because he “lied re being shaken down to avoid embarrassment,” law enforcement should leave him alone and focus only on the blackmailer. Rivera deserves to be excoriated. So Geraldo thinks avoiding embarrassment–as in public accountability for a crime—justifies an illegal cover-up by a public figure and lobbyist? Turn in that law license, son.

6. I would be interested, however, in knowing how many of Geraldo’s critics nodded their heads vigorously to the same rationalization when it was being made to justify Bill Clinton’s false statements under oath about Monica Lewinsky. Hey, doesn’t everybody lie about sex with student wrestlers?

7. I would also like to hear the exact reasoning of Democrats who think there is political significance to this. I have read that this means that Hastert is a hypocrite. Explain, please. Is the theory that former child molesters are ethically obligated to support gay rights? Do they really want to do down that road?

8. Meanwhile, I recall the accolades heaped on Ted Kennedy when he died, noting that he went on from a serious episode of misconduct (I’ll say it was serious: he committed negligent homicide, lied about it and covered it up) to be an important and productive member of Congress. I don’t see why the same couldn’t just as accurately be said of Hastert, who didn’t kill his victim, and whose hush money pay-off just occurred later. The Kennedy clan made out its seven figure checks to poor Mary-Jo’s family right away, and before the advent of the regulations Hastert is accused of violating. Oh, wait: by definition only Democrats can be honorable public servants after a crime. Sorry, I forgot.

9. Here’s a disturbing thought: one of Hastert’s most prominent failures as Speaker—in addition to leading one of the most corrupt and venal group of Republican Congressmen since the Gilded Age—was his lack of responsible action to deal with Rep. Mark Foley, who was sexually harassing male pages. Did Hastert’s own predilections in that respect lead him to empathize with Foley?

10. The most revealing aspect of this mess from an ethics point of view will be how various pundits and pols attempt to spin it to advance their own interests.

26 thoughts on “Victims, Victimizers, and Hypocrites: The Dennis Hastert Affair

  1. Long overdue, Hastert’s crimes are FINALLY mentioned; the ethics questions are his ALONE.The rabid right can spin as they wish, the truth is being revealed.

  2. Before I condemn Dennis Hastert, I’d like to see a trial and evidence presented. I assure you, I am second to NONE in my revulsion for this sort of thing. However, I also know that it is damned easy to make such claims against a man without truth and destroy his reputation. If he holds or has held high office and enjoys the respect of his community, it becomes easier still. Thus, such cases must be weighed carefully. Off to the side; if this perverted liaison DID take place, it was unlikely to be one-sided. This is a young wrestler we’re talking about! The whole thing just leaves you feeling dirty just to read about it.

        • Some? I’m fairly certain it a very nearly ubiquitous in Greek culture. Even the vaunted Spartans were rabid pederasts (despite the false claim from “300”).

          But hey, Charles Green can, through cultural moral equivalency just say “Hey, it’s all good…we’re all equal” as he did in the thread I wish I’d seen before Jack shlocked him upside the head with the truncheon of logic…

          • I’m not conversant enough in ancient Greek history to make a point of how prevalent it was in practice. I’m pretty sure, however, that there was no such thing as “gay marriage”. Their societies tended to be highly masculine oriented, certainly, and the opportunities for such things obviously were plentiful. Apparently, there was little in the way of social taboo. Before the advent of Christianity, sexual customs tended to be chaotic and destructive.

  3. You left Huffpoo out of the list, but no biggie. I would be willing to bet that there will be every possible contrived attempt to link this crime to next year’s election, the thought being that when a Democrat breaks the law, it’s no big deal, and less still a big deal the bigger the Democrat name, but when a Republican commits a crime, particularly one where deviant sexual behavior is involved, it is not just a crime, but an act of supreme hypocrisy that goes again to prove that they are all monsters who just hide it and repress honest deviates who at least don’t try to hide it. Yes Jack, as long as there are votes to be had and elections to be won the Democrats DO want to go there and will go there. They are a party without a soul led by someone who has no principles except the will to power and they will turn anything into a weapon to that end.

  4. I find the following to be very interesting in this matter:

    1. How ancient the incident is. Given the era in which this occurred, there is a pretty skinny chance of solid evidence, unless someone had a Polaroid handy. So it would be either an unsupported accusation, or something along the lines of a letter of apology.

    2. The astonishing amount of money paid to keep the matter quiet. I guess the rich really are different. Still, for this much money, a Kennedy or a Clinton could pay off a couple of manslaughter’s and a half dozen rapes. I find it hard to believe that Hastert was in a position of serious political power as long as he was, without knowing a serious political fixer or two. A bright high-school intern in the Clinton or Chicago machine could handle this.

    3. Who the hell cares about Dennis Hastert? I would confidently bet my house that when he was Speaker, less than 30% of US citizens knew who he was. So, prior to disappearing from the national stage 8 years ago, he
    was not well known to the average person.

    I doubt the Dems will have much luck with this, even with an utterly complicit press. At best the spotlight will be temporarily diverted from Hilary, and the lowest info voters will be sold Hastert as an example of Republican hypocrisy, but what good does that do the Dems? It perhaps inoculates Bill Clinton a bit, provided he refrains from activity that leaves DNA on the intern, but so what?

    As juicy political scandals go, this has about as much immediate resonance with voters as the revelation that REPUBLICAN Warren Harding had an illegitimate child. The worst, most impactful result will be the paid Democrat Party blog trolls bringing it into every conversation on the net, until their talking points are reassigned.

    • All true, especially “Who the hell cares about Dennis Hastert?” Unlike Pelosi or even Boehner, and Geingrich before he got the job by default, he had no public persona or image at all. Why anyone thinks this is a probelm for anyone but Hastert is beyond my comprehension.

      • A few good points, especially the fact that his time in the political limelight is past. That won’t stop the paid trolls from trying to make it the entire conservative community’s problem, though, for the reasons discussed above. A party without a soul or a moral compass is a party that will use any means to achieve a win.

  5. “Is the theory that former child molesters are ethically obligated to support gay rights? Do they really want to do down that road?” There’s a winner. As are Tex’s observations about classical Greece and wrestling and pederasty, etc. Didn’t Jerry what’s his name “wrestle and rough house” with his victims in the showers at Penn State?

    What is it with members of congress and pederasty? Wasn’t there a huge dust up about the Senate page program in the 1960s? Historically, did guys get into politics so they could go off to far away D.C. and cavort with “pages” for months on end away from their families? Did The Village People have a verse to “In the Navy” called “Down in Congress…?”

  6. I think this has nothing to do with the upcoming election. This also has nothing to do with gay rights — pedophilia should never be confused with being gay, even if the pedophilia is same gender. If it turns out that he was a bible-thumping-morality-preacher-type-politician in general though (I don’t remember him being one), I think we can claim he is a hypocrite given that he probably shouldn’t be preaching to us about what is moral and immoral.

    I do think, however, that we should all be thoroughly disgusted that a very powerful lawmaker (for over 20 years!) was — assuming it’s true — a child molester. So, there is significance to this story in that regard. And, given what we know generally about these criminals, I have to wonder how many other victims are out there.

  7. While I don’t agree with Joe Fowler’s political perspective, I emphatically agree with a general idea he put forward: There is more to this story than is being let on. It is inconceivable how Hastert would still be lumping out such huge amounts of cash for an incident 30 years past. What evidence can possibly still exist to merit such payouts? Also, didn’t any leverage increasingly evaporate with each disbursement implicating the victim as a perpetrator of extortion? While the potential damage would have still been exceedingly great to Hastert, as is evident by current events, the victim certainly would never act in a manner that would both cost him his freedom and the millions he already made. No more payments would be made after he could be extorted with his guilt of extortion. No. This doesn’t make sense. There is something else, something much more grave, that the extortioner had that is still being obscured. There has to be. While I won’t speculate to what that is, I can’t even imagine, its existence is a near certainty. Will we ever know? I don’t know. I’m not even sure I really care. I simply felt like obviating the obvious that nobody, except Joe Fowler above, ever mentions.

    Incidentally, speaking of ethics, I would like to see a documented explanation as to why the FBI was digging so deeply into the financial affairs of Hastert. Trust, I’m no fan of the GOP. Even more so, however, I’m no fan of politicizing law enforcement, of government officials abusing their power over law enforcement to advance their power and political agenda. It all smacks very McCarthy meets Hoover in my book. While that neither mitigates nor abnegates Hastert’s guilt, any wrong doing by the FBI isn’t exculpated ex post facto by being right. As such, the FBI has some explaining to do.

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