Moral values have always been a strong platform of the Republican party, but they consistently betray their own conservative positions. The latest example is 73-year-old Dennis Hastert, former Speaker of the U.S. House, bribing someone to conceal an “unidentified event” long ago while Hastert taught in Yorkville (IL). Promising to pay an unnamed person $3.5 million, Hastert has been indicted for withdrawing $1.7 million of money in sums under $10,000 to avoid IRS detection and then lying to the FBI about the money. It appears that he molested at least two underage males while he was coaching wrestling.
Barney Frank pointed out on All In with Chris Hayes:
“There is a hypocrisy issue. Dennis Hastert was a member of the House who voted for the Defense of Marriage act. He subsequently as Speaker twice put before the House of Representatives the constitutional amendment that would have cancelled retroactively all the same sex marriages that had taken place legally. … The rank hypocrisy of this man using his power to persecute other people for doing what he was doing.”
Rep. Newt Gingrich (R-GA) was forced to resign from the Speaker position in 1998 because he was having an affair with an employee of the House Agriculture Committee while he was still married. (Later he divorced his wife, and married the woman.) His replacement, Rep. Robert Livingston (R-LA), resigned because he was having an affair with a lobbyist who was lobbying him. (His replacement was David Vitter, a right-wing family-values conservative who was then caught having adulterous affairs with prostitutes.) Livingston then formed a lobbying group, blocking a Senate bill to call on one of his clients, Egypt, to curtail the country’s human rights abuses.
Hastert took over as Speaker just 18 days after the beginning of impeachment proceedings against President Clinton. Frank concluded, “I think that it now looks like if you take Bill Clinton, Newt Gingrich, Dennis Hastert, and Robert Livingston the Republican Speakers or would be speakers, Clinton is a choir boy.”
Orin Kerr summarized the situation in the Washington Post:
“If I understand the history correctly, in the late 1990s, the President was impeached for lying about a sexual affair by a House of Representatives led by a man who was also then hiding a sexual affair, who was supposed to be replaced by another Congressman who stepped down when forced to reveal that he too was having a sexual affair, which led to the election of a new Speaker of the House who now has been indicted for lying about payments covering up his sexual contact with a boy.”
One of the impeachment “managers” who made the case to the Senate was Rep. Henry Hyde (R-IL), who had had an adulterous affair. It was called a “youthful indiscretion,” but it happened when Hyde was 41. He is known for the Hyde Amendment barring the use of federal funds to pay for abortions that has annually appeared as riders on appropriation bills for the past 30 years.
Hastert voted “aye” on all four impeachment counts. During the impeachment proceedings, Princeton scholar Sean Wilentz told House Republicans that, in the future, they would be seen as “zealots and fanatics” and added, “History will hunt you down for your cravenness.”
In addition to consistently voting against marriage equality, Hastert voted no on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, a bill to prohibit companies from discriminating against LGBT employees. He was also a strong supporter of funding for abstinence sex education because “more kids need to be taught to just say no, that doesn’t just apply to drugs, it also applies to sex before marriage.” Hastert resigned as Speaker after the discovery that he had protected former Rep. Mark Foley (R-FL) who had sexual relationships with boys employed as pages at the U.S. Capitol.
In his autobiography over a decade old ago, Hastert wrote, “I was never a very good liar. Maybe I wasn’t smart enough. I could never get away with it, so I made up my mind as a kid to tell the truth and pay the consequences.”
Hastert codified a House doctrine, first used by Gingrich, that prevented any floor vote on a bill unless a “majority of the majority” party supports the bill. The policy, called “The Hastert Rule,” has resulted in a combination of massive gridlock and partisanship in the House. No bill can go to the floor unless the Speaker of the House gives permission. For example, a bill technically passes the House with 218 votes, but with the current number of Democrats in the House at 170, a bill must have at least 123 Republican votes—that’s a required 293 votes, almost 55 percent of the House members. Last year, the immigration bill passed with 68 votes in the Senate failed to even get an up-or-down vote in the House because too few GOP members supported it.
Known as a nice guy, Hastert hid scandals during his tenure as Speaker for people in his own party. He concealed Tom DeLay’s misconduct until they became obvious. When the ethics committee recommended a series of reprimands for DeLay in 2004, Hastert fired the committee chair, Rep. Joel Hefley (R-CO) and two other GOP members of the committee, Kenny Hulshof (MO) and Steve LaTourette (OH) before leading rule changes to make it harder to admonish House members. After three DeLay associates were indicted, Hastert enacted a rule enabling DeLay to stay as majority leader if he were indicted.
Colleagues claimed that Hastert was squeaky clean, but he manipulated land transactions in his home state to increase his net worth by millions of dollars. He bought land at a low price while two cronies purchased adjacent land at a much higher price before merging the parcels in a trust that gave Hastert an inflated share. Using his clout as Speaker, he jammed through a transportation bill with an attached $207 million earmark to fund a highway interchange that neither the Illinois Department of Transportation nor residents adjacent to the land wanted. The Speaker got $3 million, a 500-percent profit, and the highway was never built.
Hastert also forced through the Medicare prescription-drug bill by presiding over the nearly three-hour vote in the dead of night that the rules limited to 15 minutes. The Rules Committee squashed amendments from both Democrats and Republicans with rare conferences late at night and closed to anyone except Hastert’s loyal followers. Provisions, neither in House or Senate bills, were added without notice to lawmakers.
Throughout all the chicanery, Hastert kept a quiet demeanor and stayed away from most Sunday talk shows. Reporters largely ignored his presence while he managed to guide the country into the disaster that exists today.
Where Hastert goes from here, no one knows. His arraignment on financial charges, originally scheduled for tomorrow, has been moved to next Tuesday, June 9. The case is assigned to U.S. District Judge Thomas Durkin, who contributed $1,500 to Hastert’s campaign before taking the bench and is the brother of Illinois House GOP Leader Jim Durkin.
Haley Barbour, former RNC chairman, said about the indictment for paying hush money to the former Speaker of the House because he had sex with a teenager and then lied about it to the FBI:
“It doesn’t matter a bit politically. Democrats hope it does, but I don’t think so.”
The Wall Street Journal questioned the charges against Hastert from “busybody agencies” such as the FBI and IRS,” and NBC’s Pete Williams called the charges purely “technical.” This weekend, on the Sunday talk shows, moderators and reporters raked the prosecution over the coals. NBC News correspondent Pete Williams called the charges against Hastert purely “technical.” ABC’s Dan Abrams and Fox network’s Brit Hume think that “derivative crimes” are minor issues, similar to lying under oath—the charge that Hastert used to impeach President Clinton.
Seventeen years ago, Republicans said that derivative crimes were important, regardless of context, because no one was above the law. Hastert, House deputy majority whip, agreed, and voted to authorize the House Judiciary Committee to investigate Clinton. The committee must “uncover the truth” and “uphold the rule of law,” said Hastert. “Sweeping the matter under the rug just won’t work.” With his votes for impeachment, he declared that the president was not “above the law.” Sixteen years ago, when President Clinton was acquitted, Hastert said, “Republicans in the Congress can be proud that they stood by the principles that have made this nation strong.” The first principle he cited was “respect for the rule of law.”
Now the question is whether Hastert is above the law. Will he be able to conceal his own wrongdoings? I’m guessing yes, because conservatives are usually successful in this area.