For the past 24 hours some strange things have been happening with Dennis Hastert, the former Speaker of the House during almost all of the Bush administration. On Thursday Hastert was indicted on federal charges he tried to arrange a series of bank withdrawals in a way that wouldn't tip off the IRS to what he was up to. He apparently took $1.7 million out of an account as part of a $3.5 million dollar pay-off to a private individual for "prior misconduct," then lied to the FBI about the nature of the compensation.
Now if that sounds cryptic to you, someone also noticed that on November 13th of last year, Hastert appeared on C-SPAN and during that interview someone called in -- someone who identified himself only as "Bruce" -- and said to the former Speaker:“Do you remember me from Yorkville?” The caller then laughed somewhat malevolently and hung-up, leaving Hastert visibly shaken. Yorkville, it turns out, is Yorkville, Illinois where Hastert was once a schoolteacher and wrestling coach, and the new indictment claims that someone dubbed "Individual A" was a person from that period. The accusation says that Hastert had known this person “most of Individual A’s life.”
Then today comes a report that anonymous federal sources are confirming what many began to suspect: that Hastert is being indicted because he tried to pay out hush money to a young man with whom he'd engaged in sexual misconduct -- specifically, he'd had an improper sexual relationship with one of his students.
For those who need a refresher, Dennis Hastert stepped down after the 2006 elections in large part because of his handling of the Mark Foley scandal. It was shown that Foley, a representative from Florida, had been sending sexually explicit e-mails to male congressional pages and that Hastert and other Republicans knew about it for several months and kept it a secret. Foley was -- wait for it -- a major backer of anti-gay legislation and when the e-mails came to light it detonated a pretty good-sized bomb right in the middle of the House Republicans. By the time Hastert resigned, he was the longest-serving Republican Speaker in history.
So what you had, if this indictment is to be believed, was Hastert helping Mark Foley to get away with sexually harassing teenage boys while he himself was hiding the fact that he'd had a sexual relationship with a teenage boy.
Make no mistake here: This isn't about being gay. There's nothing wrong with being gay. It's not news if someone is gay and it never should be. It becomes a problem when there's hypocrisy involved at the legislative level -- meaning that someone is actively working to create anti-gay policy while being gay himself -- and when there's desperation to conceal the truth to the extent that laws are broken. But that's not entirely the issue here. The issue here is that Dennis Hastert may have had a sexual relationship with a student at the high school he taught at -- a teenager. That's grotesque no matter how you look at it. As usual, though -- it's not the crime that gets you in trouble, it's the cover-up. Dennis Hastert knew that well before this.