June 01, 2015

The Hastert Indictment

About 30 years back, a group of my fellow College Republicans drove to a neighboring Congressional district to campaign for the GOP candidate there – a high school teacher and coach named Dennis Hastert. He went on to become Speaker of the House. And last week he was indicted on some serious charges – none of which I believe should be crimes in the first place. After all, is it really government’s place to monitory when you take money out or put money in the bank, absent some evidence of criminal conduct?

Over at Commentary, John Steele Gordon expresses my feelings quite well.

Dennis Hastert, the former Republican Speaker of the House, was indicted last week on federal charges. First he was indicted for “structuring” bank cash withdrawals so as to evade bank reporting requirements. Federal banking regulations require banks to report cash deposits or withdrawals in excess of $10,000. Second he was indicted for lying to a federal official (an FBI agent) as to the reason for these withdrawals.

Hastert has always had a reputation for being personally squeaky clean, so when the indictment was unsealed and it stated that the money — totaling $1.7 million — had been used as hush money to prevent “past misconduct” with “individual A” from becoming public, it was front-page news around the country. And while the indictment was very carefully gender-neutral, it was very soon leaked that “individual A” was male and had been “inappropriately touched” by Hastert when he had been a high school teacher and wrestling coach decades ago.

There are a lot of questions here. Did a former Speaker of the House really not know that banks report large cash withdrawals to the feds and that evading those reporting requirements is a crime? Did he not know that lying to federal agents is also a crime? That strains credulity. On the other hand, the bank reporting requirements are intended to prevent, or at least deter, such serious crimes as money laundering, racketeering, drug dealing, and tax evasion. Paying hush money is not a crime. (Blackmailing someone, however, most certainly is, but at the state level. Is Illinois looking into the conduct of “individual A”? And did he pay taxes on the money he “earned” in this affair? And while lying to a federal official is also against the law, there was no underlying crime to be investigated here. Hastert was desperately trying to preserve his reputation, not evade justice.

It may shock people, but it looks like Hastert is being prosecuted because he tried to pay off a blackmailer. Paying a blackmailer is no crime – but engaging in such extortion is a crime. As such, what we have going on here is the victim of a crime being prosecuted. Will the state of Illinois look into prosecuting the blackmailer for committing extortion? Will the DoJ do so if it becomes clear that the extortion effort made use of the US mail or interstate electronic communications? After all, those are much more serious crimes, and are crimes even if (and it is a big if, given the lack of any details) Hastert did in fact engage in some sort of sexual misconduct with one of his students thirty or more years ago.

And let me make three things very clear about the alleged sexual impropriety on Hastert’s part. First, if it is true, then I unambiguously condemn the abuse, something which I have consistently declared to be a great evil since the earliest days of this blog. Second, if the accusation is true, then the alleged victim should have contacted law enforcement and used the legal system to seek financial compensation. Third, I understand Hastert’s willingness to pay even if the charges are false – I’ve seen men I considered friends, colleagues, or mentors (both priests and teachers) have their lives and careers destroyed by the taint of false accusations.

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Comments on The Hastert Indictment

Not picking on any particular star, but this comes to mind:

A few years ago, Celine Dion gave an interview wherein she told of how a woman got together with her husband, and later threatened to (falsely) accuse him of rape if they did not pay her off.

They did pay her off - and she later came back for more.

Celine and her husband then contacted the police.

NO ONE called for Celine's husband to be prosecuted, or for Celine or her husband to brought up on charges for "improper banking".

This is pure political bullsh!t.

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