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Monday, December 09, 2019

Tag: dennis hastert

Who Are The Real Sexual Predators? There's A List

Of all the big lies that Republican officials and media personalities have deployed for partisan advantage over the past several years, the most sickening by far is their current campaign to depict Democrats as “groomers” – meaning that they are sexual predators who recruit underage victims.

For years this sort of smear was weaponized against gays and lesbians. These dark insinuations have surfaced again and again in right-wing propaganda ever since the 2016 “Pizzagate” fabrication, accusing the most prominent Democrats of imprisoning children in the basement of a Washington, D.C. pizza parlor to be kept as sex slaves. (There was, by the way, no basement.)

Most recently the perverse accusation has been raised to defame Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson during her successful Supreme Court confirmation hearings, when Republican Senators claimed that she is “sympathetic to pedophiles.” Ironically, it was Judge Jackson who sentenced a man who opened fire in the pizza parlor with an automatic rifle duped into believing that he was rescuing the non-existent child prisoners.

From this conspiracy sprouted the QAnon cult, founded online by a dubious figure with ties to child porn, now running for Congress in Arizona. In fact, more than 70 QAnon proponents are running as Republicans in this year’s midterm election.

The worst of the latest round of bizarre pedophilia slurs have been, promoted by Fox News and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. This nonsense originated from an outfit known as “Libs of TikTok,” whose author was anonymous until the Washington Post exposed her identity and outraged her right-wing fans. Chaya Raichik, the disinformation spreader, is a Brooklyn real estate salesperson.

The “groomer” charges are of course lies, but they are not just ordinary falsehoods. When Republicans, from Internet crazies to Rupert Murdoch’s cable sewer to U.S. senators, claim that Democrats are guilty of sexual predation, they are engaging in a frame-up designed to deflect from a disturbing truth: the perverse and criminal conduct of literally scores of Republican officials, activists, and clergy -- factual, indisputable, and appalling.

Republican sexual hypocrisy is a longstanding cliché in American politics, from the hordes of closeted anti-gay gays and moralizing adulterers like Ken Starr to the former president whose debauched lifestyle has never troubled his evangelical worshippers. Yet now the Republicans’ “groomer” accusations have raised the ante – and inadvertently opened a Pandora’s box of newspaper and TV clips describing the criminal sexual misconduct of a long roster of Republicans.

An astonishingly comprehensive Google document of these offenders, complete with more than 800 citations and links, can be found here under the rubric of #RepublicanSexualPredators. It has apparently been maintained and updated scrupulously for years—and undoubtedly will be added to for years to come.

This list includes more than a few already familiar names, from serial killers such as Dennis Rader and Ted Bundy (who—did you know?-- attended the 1968 GOP national convention) to serial child molester Dennis “Coach” Hastert, the longest-serving Republican House Speaker, sent to prison six years ago. It includes Kenneth Starr, the Clinton-era inquisitor booted out of Baylor University as chancellor for protecting rapists; Roger Ailes, the late Fox News chief and manic sexual harasser; several conservative bishops who notoriously covered up for pedophile priests; and many, others guilty of harassment and other offenses that fall well short of felonies.

Anyone who peruses the #RepublicanSexualPredators list will, however, also find an extensive and shocking aggregation of convicted pedophiles, child rapists, and child pornographers. Among the notables are a former staff researcher for Trump’s Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, whose 2017 arrest sparked a brief scandal, and a couple of well-known Republican fundraisers from the nation’s capital. Others were county commissioners, party chairmen, city council members, state legislators, and so on down the list, covering almost every level of officialdom.

There was, for example, the former Cobb County, Georgia party chair, convicted of child molestation in 2016. There was the “Republican of the Year,” so named by the National Republican Congressional Committee, who died in prison while serving a 26-year sentence for sexually assaulting children. There was the “Faith and Family Alliance” leader who solicited sex from minors on the Internet. There was the Kentucky Republican leader arrested for having sex with a five year-old boy. There were the Republican fundraiser, the downstate Virginia mayor, and the upstate New York mayor, all convicted of child pornography charges, as were the Republican staffers, from Brooklyn to Minnesota to Florida, guilty of the same offenses.

Indeed, the list goes on and on with infuriating detail. (Not every single link is still fresh, although even on the dead links, names and locations will reveal the offenders if searched on Google.)

What does this troubling record of Republican predation mean? Obviously, it does not mean that no Democrat has ever committed a sexual offense, against an adult or a child, nor that all Republicans are somehow implicated in such offenses. What it clearly does mean, at the very least, is that Republican propagandists misusing such accusations for partisan gain need to look in the mirror. Like the violent insurrectionist creeps behind QAnon, they are not “protecting children” – and that was never their purpose. They are engaged in a slander campaign that has accused innocent people and served only to conceal real predators.

Meet your Republican Party today.

A Chair In The Shower Room, A Portrait On The Capitol Wall, What’s Next For Hastert? Prison Bars?

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.

COPYRIGHT 2016 CREATORS.COM

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  

Former House Speaker Dennis Hastert To Plead Guilty: Lawyers

By Mary Wisniewski

CHICAGO (Reuters) – Former U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert has reached a deal with prosecutors and expects to plead guilty to wrongdoing in a hush-money case, his lawyers told a federal judge in Chicago on Thursday.

Prosecutors and defense attorneys did not say what the charges were, or whether Hastert, the Republican speaker from 1999 to 2007, would serve time in prison.

He was charged in May with trying to hide large cash transactions as part of a hush-money scheme and with lying to the FBI.

The agreement is expected to be submitted to U.S. District Judge Thomas Durkin on Monday, attorneys for Hastert said during a brief court appearance. Hastert did not attend.

Hastert is scheduled to plead guilty on Oct. 28.

Federal prosecutors allege he promised to pay $3.5 million to an unnamed individual from his hometown of Yorkville, Illinois, to conceal past misconduct.

The individual who was allegedly receiving hush money from Hastert has not surfaced publicly. But anonymous law enforcement officials have told a number of media outlets that Hastert was trying to cover up sexual abuse of a male decades ago when he worked as a high school teacher and wrestling coach.

(Reporting by Mary Wisniewski; Writing by David Bailey; Editing by Doina Chiacu and Jeffrey Benkoe)

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  

Dennis Hastert Case Leaves Open Many Questions About Mysterious ‘Individual A’

By David Heinzmann and Jeff Coen, Chicago Tribune (TNS)

CHICAGO — One by one, men identified by political insiders and the Kendall County rumor mill have denied being “Individual A,” the mysterious figure who prosecutors say took cash from former House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert to keep quiet about a dark history with him.

They have repeatedly waved off the media, sometimes pointing to others who in turn have told persistent reporters to keep looking.

More than a month after Hastert’s indictment, the identity of the person who sources said was a victim of sexual misconduct by Hastert in connection with his years as a teacher and wrestling coach at Yorkville High School remains a secret. The mystery surrounding Individual A begets more questions as the case unfolds.

Does the government regard Individual A as a victim, a witness, or as a planner taking part in an illegal scheme? Or some combination of all three? What did Individual A do with the $1.7 million Hastert allegedly gave him before investigators caught up to the former congressman’s activities? And how did the two reach an agreement for Hastert to pay a total of $3.5 million, a staggering sum even for a man who turned to a lucrative lobbying career after decades in public service.

Some legal experts have speculated that Individual A is being treated as a cooperating witness. But prosecutors may not need his testimony to prove their allegation that Hastert illegally took large sums of money out of the bank without reporting it, then lied to the FBI when asked about what he was doing.

The government likely does not need Individual A’s cooperation to make its case against Hastert on the bank and lying charges, said Jeff Cramer, a former federal prosecutor who now heads the Chicago office of Kroll, a corporate investigations firm. But information from the recipient of the money does help prosecutors build a more robust story around their case.

“In theory, no, it doesn’t matter why one takes out the money, nor why someone lies to the FBI. The fact is, they do it,” Cramer said. “However, that part of the tale, if it goes to trial, the jury is going to want to hear … It does help explain why (Hastert) was so frantically trying to get money out, and after the banks came to him, he continued.”

Sources with knowledge of the case have said Hastert made payments to cover up sexual misconduct against Individual A, identified only as a man. For their part, prosecutors have yielded few clues in court paperwork about that person’s identity, writing that Individual A lived previously in Yorkville and has known Hastert most of their life. In fact, prosecutors have taken steps to protect Individual A’s identity, filing court papers seeking to permanently seal records that could disclose his identity.

In the indictment, prosecutors noted Hastert’s early career as a teacher and wrestling coach between 1965 and 1981, which sent the media digging through Yorkville High School yearbooks and knocking on doors of former high school wrestlers now in their 50s and 60s.

Legal experts agree it is likely the clues in the indictment itself are on point.

“The indictment typically will contain language that is relevant to the offense, otherwise a good lawyer is going to be able to strike language from it,” said longtime defense attorney Joseph Duffy.

Since the indictment is required to outline the elements of the offense, it seems clear the government is establishing the circumstances under which Individual A was wronged by Hastert, said Duffy, who was previously a high-ranking federal prosecutor.

Allowing witnesses and victims in federal prosecutions to remain anonymous is not uncommon. But few cases share details as intriguing as the Hastert prosecution. Had the news of Individual A come out during Hastert’s eight-year tenure as speaker, the case would have been a major Beltway scandal.

Adding to the secrecy surrounding Individual A, and possibly extending anonymity to that person permanently, the judge in the case has granted a prosecutors’ motion for a protective order covering information surrounding the case.

Prosecutors contend that discovery material to be turned over to the defense could have an impact on “law enforcement interests” if it were made public. In their motion filed in June, prosecutors also said they were seeking to protect “the privacy interests of third parties.”

Under the court order, aspects of the case related to Individual A could be filed under seal and not publicly disclosed without the court’s permission. Sensitive discovery material would either be returned to the government or destroyed after the case is over.

That means the identity of Individual A is unlikely to be disclosed in the court case unless Hastert decides to proceed to a trial and prosecutors needed to call Individual A to the witness stand to build the case against him. The U.S. attorney’s office in Chicago declined to comment for this story.

But closing the door on the case without airing the whole story about Individual A’s role may leave open questions about what the public has a right to know. Authorities have not said whether Hastert’s years in Congress, including eight as speaker, had any bearing on his conduct with Individual A. They also have not said whether Individual A owes taxes on the money. Legal experts are somewhat divided on that question.

Prosecutors described the payments from Hastert as an agreement to “compensate for and conceal his prior misconduct.” Part of the intrigue, legal experts said, is whether Individual A took part in a crime by striking an agreement for hush money or whether he received an informal settlement for injuries negotiated in good faith with Hastert.

“As a general rule, compensation for injuries is not taxable,” Duffy said.

However, the indictment does say the payment of money was to have Individual A help cover past misconduct, meaning keep it quiet, Duffy said, adding “payment for the concealment of past wrongdoing would be taxable.”

In figuring out “the various tax possibilities of these questions, there’s a lot of ‘it depends,’ ” said Scott Coffina, a former federal prosecutor who now specializes in white-collar criminal defense and corporate investigations. The tax status of the money may be an open question at this stage in the case, he said.

“The government may ask (Individual A) about it,” said Coffina, who is based in Philadelphia. “And the IRS may be interested.”

But experts agreed that taking Individual A to task for any role in the alleged scheme is tricky if the government believes he was in fact a victim of sexual misconduct. If prosecutors want to treat Individual A’s involvement as if he was a victim in a civil case, there may be room to do so, notwithstanding the unusual nature of the arrangement between Hastert and Individual A.

“Settlements can be pretty informal,” said Michael Knoll, a tax policy expert who teaches at the University of Pennsylvania Law School. Settlements for damages related to physical injuries are tax exempt under the law, Knoll said. “The sexual abuse would trigger the physical element” of the tax exemption, he said.

But Cramer, who has experience in financial crimes prosecutions, was skeptical that the government would treat the Hastert payments as if they were a tax-free settlement.

“Could lawyers argue that and try to put a square peg in a round hole? Sure lawyers can argue that. But this is not a settlement,” he said.

If Individual A didn’t pay taxes on the money Hastert provided, it is likely the IRS would be interested, Cramer said: “This is a pitch coming right down the plate, and the IRS is not just going to look at it without taking a swing.”

Others agreed that if the tax-free settlement notion doesn’t prevail, the IRS is unlikely to take a pass on taxes owed just because Individual A may have been a victim.

“A sympathetic situation doesn’t mean you don’t owe taxes,” Knoll said.

(c)2015 Chicago Tribune. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: Doug Bowman via Flickr

Dennis Hastert Pleads Not Guilty To Lying To FBI About Hush Money

By Jason Meisner and Steve Schmadeke, Chicago Tribune (TNS)

CHICAGO — Former U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert entered a plea of not guilty Tuesday afternoon to charges he paid hush money to cover up wrongdoing in his past and then lied about it to the FBI.

For 15 awkward minutes before the hearing began, Hastert sat at the defense table with the courtroom packed with reporters, his eyes darting to the ceiling and then down to his hands. Later, as the attorneys conferred with each other, Hastert sat by himself, staring straight ahead.

Hastert, 73, was released on his own recognizance. The judge set standard conditions of bond: He can’t violate the law, must attend all his court appearances and can travel only in the continental U.S. while the charges are pending.

Hastert had already surrendered his passport.

“Yes, sir,” Hastert said when asked if he understood the terms and conditions of the bail.

The arraignment was highlighted by U.S. District Judge Thomas Durkin addressing head-on some potential conflict-of-interest issues that arose after he was randomly selected as the judge to hear the high-profile case.

The judge noted that he had made two donations to Hastert’s campaign more than a decade ago while he was a private citizen. He also said he had written an email in the mid-1990s to a Hastert staffer as part of his effort at the time to be appointed to the federal bench, “but nothing came of it,” said Durkin, who only became a federal judge a few years ago.

In addition, the judge said he had worked at the same law firm as Hastert’s son, Ethan, including working on one matter together.

“We were friendly business colleagues, but I do not consider him a personal friend,” Durkin said.

The judge said he didn’t think he should be disqualified from the case based on the federal statute at issue.

“I have no doubt I can be impartial in this matter,” he said.

But he said he wasn’t so naive to believe that some would not question his impartiality.

The judge said he would step aside if either side decided he should remove himself from the case. He asked for them to make that decision by Thursday.

“I will not be offended whatever the result, I assure you,” the judge said.

Earlier in the afternoon, Hastert arrived at the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse for his arraignment on the federal charges.

Dressed in a blue tie and dark suit, Hastert got out of a black vehicle at 12:45 p.m. amid a scrum of cameramen and reporters. He was escorted by several Homeland Security officers through the revolving doors and went through security, not responding to shouts for comment.

Hastert got on an elevator to the 11th floor to apparently meet with the pretrial services department before his 2 p.m. arraignment. He was accompanied by three attorneys, one of whom shouted “Watch it!” as cameramen crowded in near the revolving door.

Earlier in the day, Hastert arrived at the Loop offices of the Sidley Austin law firm. Reporters yelled to him through the closed window of the vehicle, but the former U.S. House speaker did not respond.

Dozens of television crews and reporters from around the country were at the federal courthouse awaiting Hastert’s arraignment. The hearing was the Illinois Republican’s first court appearance since the bombshell charges against him were unveiled nearly two weeks ago.

A long line of people stretched down the hall in front of Durkin’s courtroom — all hoping to attend the arraignment. In a nearby courtroom being used to handle the crowd of reporters, about 10 journalists awaited the hearing with their laptop computers at the ready more than half an hour before the proceeding.

The indictment alleges Hastert agreed to pay $3.5 million to someone from his days as a high school teacher not to reveal a secret about past misconduct by the former House speaker.

Tuesday’s hearing came amid a deepening mystery surrounding Hastert’s alleged wrongdoing during his days as a teacher and wrestling coach decades ago in Yorkville, Illinois. The carefully worded, seven-page indictment unsealed May 28 only hinted at Hastert’s dark past in alleging he had agreed to willingly pay $3.5 million to a person identified as Individual A to hide previous wrongdoing, but federal law enforcement sources have said Hastert was making the payments to conceal sexual abuse of a Yorkville High School student.

Since the charges were filed, other details have bubbled to the surface. Law enforcement sources said the FBI had interviewed a second person who raised similar allegations of sexual abuse against Hastert that corroborated the account of Individual A. Last week, a onetime Yorkville resident took to national television to say Hastert abused her now-deceased brother while he was a student.

Amid the disclosures, Hastert has remained silent, staying out of public view while reporters scoured his home base in Chicago’s western suburbs for clues. Numerous former wrestlers under Hastert who have been contacted by the Tribune have either declined to comment or said they do not know the identity of the person described as Individual A.

Adding to the intrigue, no lawyer stepped forward to defend Hastert in the media as typically happens in high-profile criminal cases. It wasn’t until Monday afternoon that the identity of Hastert’s attorney was even made public when Thomas C. Green, a longtime white-collar defense attorney with the law firm of Sidley Austin in Washington, filed his appearance with the court.

(Freelance reporter Gary Gibula contributed.)

(c)2015 Chicago Tribune. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: Former U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert leaves Chicago’s Dirksen U.S. Courthouse on Tuesday, June 9, 2015, after pleading not guilty to charges that he evaded bank regulations and lied to the FBI. (Terrence Antonio James/Chicago Tribune/TNS)

Hastert Hires Washington Attorney As He Prepares For Court Hearing

By Jason Meisner, Chicago Tribune (TNS)

CHICAGO — Former U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert has hired longtime Washington criminal defense attorney Thomas Green to represent him on charges that Hastert arranged to pay $3.5 million to cover up wrongdoing against an acquaintance.

The announcement that Green, of the firm Sidley Austin, was representing Hastert comes nearly two weeks after his indictment and a day before he is scheduled to be arraigned on the charges in U.S. District Court in Chicago.

Carter Phillips, a partner at Sidley Austin, confirmed in an email Monday afternoon that Green was hired. He said the firm would have no comment before the hearing, scheduled for 2 p.m. CDT Tuesday before U.S. District Judge Thomas Durkin.

According to his biography on Sidley Austin’s website, Green has “represented members of Congress and other public officials in responding to some of the most well-known and significant federal and congressional investigations of official misconduct.”

Hastert will enter a plea to the charges Tuesday and be processed by the U.S. Marshals Service. He is likely to be released on his own recognizance.

Hastert’s arraignment is expected to generate media coverage unseen at the courthouse since then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s arrest on corruption charges nearly seven years ago.

Hastert was charged in an indictment unsealed May 28 with illegally structuring bank withdrawals over 4 { years to conceal $1.7 million in hush payments to “Individual A,” whom law enforcement sources describe as a former Yorkville (Ill.) High School student Hastert had sexually abused decades earlier. Hastert also was charged with lying to FBI agents who questioned him about the withdrawals in December.

Federal agents also have interviewed a second person who raised similar allegations of sexual abuse against Hastert that corroborated the account of the initial alleged victim, another law enforcement source said after the indictment.

Last week, a former Yorkville resident said Hastert abused her now-deceased brother while he was a student. Jolene Burdge, now of Montana, told ABC News that her brother, Stephen Reinboldt, was abused by Hastert for years before he graduated in 1971. Hastert was the wrestling coach, and Reinboldt was an equipment manager for the team.

(c)2015 Chicago Tribune. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: ASIS International via Flickr

Coach Denny, Grandma Nancy, And America’s Family Values

Republicans on Capitol Hill keep telling everyone how terribly shocked they are by the tawdry tale of Dennis Hastert, the former Speaker of the House indicted last week for violations of federal money-laundering statutes in an effort to cover up alleged sexual abuse of a male high-school student many years ago.

Long upheld as a paragon of Midwestern conservative values, Hastert represented a suburban Illinois district and became his party’s longest-serving Speaker. Like Newt Gingrich, who preceded him in that post, Hastert avidly prosecuted the impeachment of Bill Clinton for trying to conceal an extramarital affair. Unlike Gingrich, whose own serial adulteries became a national joke, Hastert was evidently never suspected of any such “misconduct,” as the indictment described it.

“I don’t see how this didn’t come up on the radar before,” said a former Hastert aide following the release of his indictment.  “It’s sort of beyond belief.”

But is it truly beyond belief, at this very late date, to learn that yet another moralizing politician or preacher was always an utter hypocrite? Not unless you haven’t been paying attention for the past two decades or so. Or you’ve been mesmerized into believing the propaganda that claims only one party — the GOP — represents “family values.”

A decade ago, Hastert was hailed as a partisan symbol of superior virtue, notably in John Mickelthwait and Adrian Wooldridge’s The Right Nation: Conservative Power in America, which gleefully predicted endless victories for the Republicans and doom for the Democrats. Written by a pair of British Tories who then held top positions at The Economist magazine, that work invidiously contrasted then-Speaker Hastert with Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, his counterpart on the other side of the aisle – and described their districts as emblematic of red and blue America.

Mickelthwait (now editor-in-chief at Bloomberg) and Wooldridge waxed on lyrically and at daunting length in praise of Coach Denny and “Hastertland,” while they cast a censorious gaze upon Nancy and “Pelosiville,” also known as San Francisco or, again in their words, “the capital of gay America.” Their description of Hastert — “a fairly straightforward conservative: antiabortion, anti-gay marriage” – rings with irony today. So does their depiction of Pelosi’s urban constituency as “a peculiar mix of blue bloods and gays, dotcom millionaires and aging hippies,” set against the “resolutely ‘normal’ ” people represented by Hastert, who “think of themselves as typical Americans.”

Key to understanding the two districts and therefore American politics, according to the authors, were differing attitudes toward “the importance of family life,” orthodox religion, and “social disorder.” In Hastertland, churches and families were growing, streets were clean, and vagrancy eliminated – and in Pelosiville exactly the reverse, with secularism rampant, bums everywhere, and even an outpost of the Church of Satan.

“Looking at ‘Pelosiville’ and ‘Hastertland,’“ they concluded, “it is not difficult to see why American politics has shifted to the Right.”

As it turned out, The Right Nation was mostly wrong, about the fates of the two major parties and much else besides. But what was most wrong was the insinuation that Republicans stand for more elevated values than Democrats, or that conservatives are morally purer than liberals. To take their own example, we now know what we know about Hastert – and we also know that Pelosi, mother of five, grandmother of eight, married more than 50 years to the same husband, advocate of gay marriage and reproductive rights, is today far more credible as a symbol of “family values” and family life.

None of this should be surprising, with all due respect to the shocked, shocked, shocked Republicans. In 2003, after Hastert already had ascended to third in line from the presidency, I reviewed the endless ranks of right-wing moral mountebanks – the cheating celebrity evangelists, the homophobic gay politicians, the lecherous legislators, and others too raunchy to mention here – in one chapter of a book called Big Lies. I included many stories about Hastert’s House colleagues, partying amid their pursuit of Clinton; some were amusing, some quite depressing. Of course, I didn’t know about “Coach Denny” back then.

But with or without his sad story, the conclusion would be the same: that liberals “care about families and children just as much as conservatives do – and that their more tolerant, humane policies do more to help families than the selfish and self-righteous approach of the Republican right.”

What should have changed by now, whenever conservatives start to cluck about their rectitude and piety, is whether anybody still listens.

Photo: Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert (R-IL), Nov. 4, 2006, via Wikimedia Commons.

The Real Scandal In Denny Hastert’s Life

Washington’s establishment of politicos, lobbyists, and media sparklies are shocked — shocked to their very core! — by the scandalous sexual revelations about Dennis Hastert.

The portly Republican, who’d been Speaker of the House a decade ago, was an affable, nondescript Midwesterner who was popular with his fellow lawmakers. A former high-school wrestling coach in rural Illinois, Hastert was viewed as a solid salt-of-the-Earth fellow embodying Middle America’s moral values. So his recent indictment for paying $1.7 million in hush money to a man he apparently molested during his coaching years has rocked our Capitol.

“I’m shocked and saddened,” said the current GOP Speaker, John Boehner. Likewise, former colleagues from both sides of the aisle were dismayed that “our Denny” would have been engaged in child molestation and now caught in an illegal financial cover-up of that abomination. “This has really come out of nowhere,” exclaimed Rep. Peter King, a longtime ally of the man whom all of Washington considered a straight arrow.

Washington’s gossip mill is spinning furiously over last week’s revelations. Before we join these officials in wailing about Dennis Hastert’s alleged long-hidden molestation, however, let me note that while they are bewildered by his sexual impropriety, they find it not worthy of mention — much less condemnation — that Denny has long been immersed in the immoral swamp of Washington’s game of money politics. The guy they profess to love as a paragon of civic virtue — “the coach,” as Rep. King hailed him — was one of the most corrupt Speakers ever. What about the filthy, backroom affair he has been openly conducting with corporate lobbyists for nearly two decades?

During his tenure as House Speaker, Hastert turned the place into the Willy Wonka Chocolate Factory of corporate favors. By putting campaign cash into Republican re-election coffers controlled by him and his top hitman, Majority Leader Tom DeLay, corporate interests gained entry into Denny’s psychedelic playhouse. With Hastert himself singing “Candy Man,” the favor seekers could help themselves to the river of chocolate running through Congress’ back rooms.

Remember “earmarks,” the sneaky tactic of letting congressional leaders secretly funnel appropriations to favored corporations and projects? Earmarks became the trademark of Hastert’s regime, sticking taxpayers with the tab for such outrages as Alaska’s “Bridge to Nowhere.” Indeed, Denny grabbed a $200 million earmark for himself, funding an Illinois highway near land he owned — land he then sold, netting millions in personal profit.

When he left Congress, Hastert moved just a short limo ride away to become — what else? — a corporate lobbyist. Trading on his former title, personal ties to House members and knowledge of how the chocolate factory runs, he has been hauling in a fortune as a high-dollar influence peddler for makers of candy-flavored cigarettes, Peabody Coal Company, land developers and other giants. And guess what his specialty is? Getting “riders” attached to appropriations bills, so public money is channeled directly to his clients.

Hastert openly traded legislative favors for campaign cash, including profiting personally from his powerful position. And, when he was squeezed out because of the corruption, he didn’t return to the home folks — he became a K-Street lobbyist, continuing to profit to this day by doing corporate favors. That’s how he got so rich he was able to shell out $1.7 million in hush money to the student he abused.

Good ol’ Denny has always thought he was above the law. Just as Hastert should be held accountable for the deep personal damage his alleged molestation would’ve done to his former student, so should he also pay for his abominably indecent abuse of office, his self-gratifying groping of public funds and his repeated, sticky-fingered violations of the American people’s public trust.

To find out more about Jim Hightower, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at www.creators.com. 

Photo: Doug Bowman via Flickr