Once upon a time, Dennis Hastert looked forward to being the longest-serving Republican speaker of the House of Representatives.
Today he is likelier to be remembered for his reclining chair.
As a document filed in federal court in Illinois recently put it, as a high-school wrestling coach, Hastert put a La-Z-Boy-type “chair in direct view of the shower stalls in the locker room where he sat while the boys showered.”
Hastert told people he put it there to keep the boys from fighting. Prosecutors believe that Hastert put it there for the view.
And just when Hastert thought things could not get worse — they got worse. Last week, federal prosecutors released graphic accusations detailing how Hastert sexually abused at least four students who were on his wrestling team.
You would think keeping a large chair in a locker room would raise a few eyebrows. But it didn’t. That was the point. Hastert was practically worshipped at his school and in his town.
“Defendant was not just a teacher and coach,” the prosecutors said in the court filing. “Defendant was famous in Yorkville as the beloved coach of the state champion wrestling team; the leader of a boys’ club that took trips to the Grand Canyon and the Bahamas; and the popular teacher who gave kids rides in his Porsche.”
After the 26-page document by prosecutors became public a few days ago, Andy Richter, sidekick to late-night comic Conan O’Brien, posted a series of tweets:
–“I went to Yorkville HS ’80-’84 & I remember this chair. Purportedly ‘to keep boys from fighting.'”
–“I haven’t thought of it in 30 yrs.”
–“tbh (to be honest), I don’t find it’s upsetting me now. I’m just so struck by how easy it was to do that. Nobody questioned it.”
The only alleged victim of Hastert’s to be named so far is Steve Reinboldt, an equipment manager of the team. In 1979, years after he was out of high school, Reinboldt told his sister that Hastert abused him for four years. His sister asked him why he had not spoken up sooner.
“And he just turned around and kind of looked at me and said, ‘Who is ever going to believe me?'” Reinboldt’s sister said. Reinboldt died in 1995.
“Mr. Hastert is deeply sorry and apologizes for his misconduct that occurred decades ago and the resulting harm he caused to others,” his lawyers have said in a court filing. “Mr. Hastert’s fall from grace has been swift and devastating.”
So much time has passed since Hastert’s alleged abuse of the students that he can no longer be charged for sex crimes. But though Hastert does not dispute all of the sexual acts contained in the federal documents, his lawyers are trying to spin the case as one of a retired, sickly 74-year-old man who has had a stroke and who has been punished enough.
Hastert, who went to an evangelical Christian college and received a 100 percent score from the Christian Coalition of America when he was in public life, is due to be sentenced April 27, at which time one of his victims may testify against him.
To the judge hearing the case, Hastert’s lawyers have written, “We respectfully request that the Court consider the humiliation and isolation that Mr. Hastert and his family have already suffered when determining his sentence.” Hastert served as House speaker for eight years, and now he has been brought low.
After all, his lawyers say, Hastert’s name has “become forever tainted,” and he has been “stung by the public repudiations of him that followed his indictment, including the removal of his portrait from the United States Capitol.”
It is difficult, however, to compare having your portrait taken off a wall to having been sexually abused as a teenager for a period of years.
And the prosecution fired back: “While defendant achieved great success, reaping all the benefits that went with it, these boys struggled, and all are still struggling now with what defendant did to them. Some have managed better than others, but all of them carry the scars defendant inflicted upon them.”
Hastert’s attorneys are seeking a sentence of probation without prison time.
Prosecutors are asking the judge to send Hastert to prison for up to six months.
Hastert himself? He said in a statement in 2003, when he was speaker of the House, “It is equally important to stop those predators before they strike, to put repeat child molesters into jail for the rest of their lives.”
Hastert may have changed his mind about that.
Roger Simon is Politico’s chief political columnist. His new e-book, “Reckoning: Campaign 2012 and the Fight for the Soul of America,” can be found on Amazon.com, BN.com and iTunes. To find out more about Roger Simon and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Web page at www.creators.com.
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Photo: Former U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Dennis Hastert is surrounded by officers as he leaves federal court after pleading not guilty to federal charges of trying to hide large cash transactions and lying to the FBI in Chicago, Illinois, United States, June 9, 2015. REUTERS/Jim Young