Is there a single politician from Illinois that isn’t completely and utterly corrupt?
J. Dennis Hastert stumbled into political power amid a Republican sex scandal in 1998 that unexpectedly elevated the husky Illinoisan to a position just two heartbeats away from the presidency.
He became the longest-serving Republican House speaker in U.S. history, but remained so proud of his days as a small-town high school teacher and wrestling coach that he relished the Capitol Hill nickname “Coach.”
But this week those once-idolized small-town roots caught up with the 73-year-old Hastert, who in recent years has worked behind the scenes as a Washington power broker.
On Friday, federal law enforcement officials said Hastert had paid $1.7 million over the last four years to conceal sexual abuse against a former male student he knew during his days as a teacher in Yorkville, Ill., where Hastert worked until 1981.
It was another sex scandal that led to Hastert’s improbable rise to become House speaker.
He was plucked from a junior GOP leadership position in December 1998 after Republicans ousted former Speaker Newt Gingrich following a poor midterm election showing and then Gingrich’s presumed successor, Rep. Bob Livingston of Louisiana, admitted to an extramarital affair and turned down the post.
In chaos and division, the party turned to a pragmatic, no-drama Midwesterner who was believed to have nothing to hide: J. Dennis Hastert.
Dubbed the “Accidental Speaker,” he dealt with the passage of President George W. Bush’s tax cuts and the expansion of Medicare to include prescription drugs. In the aftermath of Sept. 11, he oversaw efforts to get money to New York and negotiate the Patriot Act.
Hastert left Congress in 2007, after Democrats had assumed the majority in the 2006 midterm election. Six months later, Dickstein Shapiro announced he was joining its team as a senior advisor, though he had to wait to become a lobbyist because of a federally mandated cooling-off period.
Yorkville isn’t in Chicago, but you can smell the shit from there. It doesn’t show on the map but there is a river of sleaze connecting Illinois to a much nastier swamp on the Potomac. Sweaty Denny Hastert is just another swamp thing.
It is convenient these days to blame George Bush and the war in Iraq for all the woes of the GOP but Dennis Hastert reminds us that the old GOP Congress was corrupt too. How else do you explain a former high school wrestling coach getting rich on a congressman’s salary?
Hastert’s ability to make such large cash payments probably came from his career as a K Street lobbyist. He entered Congress in 1987 with a net worth of no more than $270,000 and then exited worth somewhere between $4 million and $17 million, according to congressional disclosure documents. Much of his wealth, however, was tied up in real estate holdings.
Since Hastert became a lobbyist, his clients have paid millions of dollars for his services.
It’s prolly just a coinky-dink that those real estate holdings dramatically increased in value because of the new $200 million federal highway that runs right next to them. Then there was the Mark Foley scandal:
Hastert was the longest-serving Republican House speaker in history when he retired after the 2006 elections. That year, he and other Republicans were embroiled in a major congressional scandal. Then-Rep. Mark Foley (R-Fla.) resigned in September 2006 after it was revealed he sent sexually explicit instant messages and emails to male congressional pages.
The Republican leadership’s handling of the scandal, with Hastert at the helm, played a key role in that year’s midterm elections, when the GOP sustained a major shellacking and was forced to hand over control of the House to Democrats, after dominating it since 1994.
To be sure, the GOP was also dogged by an unpopular president waging a deeply controversial war. But Hastert and other GOP congressional leaders were implicated in the Foley scandal when it was revealed that they knew about the emails in late 2005, months before the scandal made headlines in September 2006. Additionally, they allowed Foley to serve as chair of a congressional caucus on missing and exploited children, right up until he resigned from Congress. Foley had also been a major proponent of anti-gay legislation.
Hastert’s office initially claimed that he first heard about the scandal when former congressional pages leaked the emails to ABC News and The Washington Post, breaking the story wide open. Shortly after that, he backtracked, releasing a statement admitting that he had known about Foley’s inappropriate behavior since that spring and that several congressional leaders had alerted him and his staff to the emails.
The revelations pointed to a potential cover-up. Subsequent reporting found that Republican top brass warned Foley of the consequences of his behavior and tried to intervene in the months leading up to his resignation.
It began with Rep. Rodney Alexander (R-La.), who learned of the emails because Foley had been corresponding with one of Alexander’s pages. Alexander reported the correspondence to Rep. Thomas Reynolds (R-N.Y.), chair of the National Republican Congressional Committee, as well as then-House Majority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio). They quickly informed Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.), who oversaw the House page program. Shimkus confronted Foley and ordered him to stop all communication with the pages.
Boehner and Reynolds then warned several of Hastert’s aides, including Hastert’s floor assistant, deputy chief of staff, and in-house counsel. Both congressmen also claimed they spoke directly to Hastert about the situation, with Boehner saying that Hastert responded that it “had been taken care of.” Hastert denied the conversations.
A House Ethics Committee investigation ultimately concluded that Hastert was “willfully ignorant” in handling the revelations, and the Foley scandal cast a dark cloud over his final days in office.
That whole mess looks a little different now, doesn’t it?
Former FBI translator Sibel Edmonds is accusing the FBI of covering up improper contacts and financial dealings between certain Turkish nationals and the office of House Speaker Dennis Hastert.
Vanity Fair alleges that Hastert may have been the recipient of tens of thousands of dollars of secret payments from Turkish officials in exchange for political favors and information.
Remember that bit about Hastert going to work for Dickstain Shapiro? They do lobbying for Turkey.
Barack Obama is the reason I am no longer a Democrat. But sleazebags like Denny Hastert are the reason I don’t want to be a Republican either.
We need to drain the swamp.