The aftershock on Capitol Hill continues to reverberate following last week’s federal indictment of former House Speaker Denny Hastert on charges that he skirted banking regulations when making withdrawals to reportedly pay off a former student he sexually abused when he was a high school teacher and coach, according to Roll Call
The 73-year-old Hastert, according to the indictment, agreed to pay $3.5 million to silence "Individual A" who accused the former speaker of "wrongdoing."
Hastert, according to the indictment, then lied to the FBI about structuring the cash withdrawals to avoid reporting them. The feds allege that the payments began in 2010, several years after Hastert left office.
Florida Rep. Ted Yoho expressed concern to The Hill
that the allegations could mean Hastert’s decisions during his tenure as speaker were "compromised."
"When you become compromised, how does that influence somebody's decision-making knowing they've got something held over their head, someone saying: 'Yes, you will vote this way,'" said Yoho.
Arizona Rep. Martha McSally characterized as "nauseating" the thought that Hastert could have been blackmailed.
"Certainly it's a black eye all the way around" for Congress, she said.
Perhaps because of earlier scandals that have rocked Washington, House Speaker John Boehner's leadership style has been antithetical to Hastert's, according to Roll Call's David Hawkings.
Boehner, who likely never knew of Hastert's alleged misdeeds, "has worked assiduously to bring a glass-house lifestyle to the Capitol," Hawkings writes.
"He seems to be compensating for the quite passive — and politically destructive — approach Hastert took toward colleagues' ethical failings when he was in charge of the House," according to Hawkings, adding that the current speaker has been a "a dogmatic behind-the-scenes disciplinarian with GOP colleagues who have lost their moral bearings."
On Hastert's watch, Rep. Tom DeLay resigned as majority leader to fight criminal campaign finance charges back home in Texas, and two of DeLay’s former top aides pleaded guilty to bribery-related charges in an influence-peddling investigation centered on the lobbyist Jack Abramoff, according to Hawkings.
Ohio Rep. Bob Ney, chairman of the House Administration Committee, pleaded guilty to felony charges in the Abramoff affair and California Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham received an eight-year prison term for accepting $2.4 million in bribes in return for promising earmarks to defense contractors.
"All the while, Hastert expressed next to nothing publicly by way of disapproval," writes Hawkings. "His standing in the leadership seemed secure anyway — until the Hill’s first sexting scandal broke a month before the 2006 midterm elections. Republican Rep. Mark Foley of Florida resigned after it emerged he’d been sending explicit and solicitous emails and texts for several years to teenage boys who were current and former House pages. Hastert acknowledged knowing about the messages but deciding against a thorough investigation."
Boehner has taken a heavy-handed approach with members of his caucus accused of wrongdoing, such as forcing the resignation of Rep. Mark Souder immediately after the Indiana conservative was caught in a "compromising position" with a part-time aide in a car, Hawkings reports.
He followed the same tack with Rep. Chris Lee of New York after his "shirtless Craigslist solicitations for companionship went viral," and Boehner’s stern hand likely expedited Illinois Rep. Aaron Schock’s resignation after revelations about his office décor and expense accounts, Hawkings writes.
According to The Chicago Tribune,
Hastert faces charges of one count each of evading currency reporting requirements and making a false statement to the FBI, each of which carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
The Tribune notes that the indictment is purposely vague about the nature of the relationship between Hastert and "Individual A" and the alleged wrongdoing, though the newspaper interviewed several law enforcement sources who said "Hastert was paying off a man to conceal sexual abuse from the time Hastert taught and coached at Yorkville High School."
The two men purportedly met several times in 2010 and discussed "past misconduct" by Hastert years prior.
Hastert made 15 withdrawals of $50,000 each from his own accounts, triggering an investigation since federal law requires banks to report any transaction or series of transactions in excess of $10,000.
When the FBI and IRS questioned Hastert
about the structure of the transactions in December, "he lied to them, insisting that he 'did not feel safe in the banking system,'" according to the Tribune.
He said he "kept the cash." Lying to federal officials is a crime.
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