Political reporters failed for years to connect the dots on former House Speaker Dennis Hastert’s involvement in the national capital’s gay scene.
Even now, the mainstream and alternative media's "pack journalism" style remains focused almost solely on a near-frenzy to publish details about Hastert's personal activities. Meanwhile, they refrain from probing the broader implications of his clout. The man was second-in-line to the presidency from 1999 to 2007.
Whether from timidity or complicity, the media are focusing as usual in holding up one miscreant as a scapegoat while remaining nearly silent regarding a long term pattern of links between sex scandal, blackmail, federal contracts that bilk taxpayers, selective prosecution, and other corrupt policy making.
A tradition of such silence has enabled Hastert, 73, and other vice-seeking politicians to wield vast power over the public even though they are highly vulnerable to blackmailers and other controllers, as we shall amplify in future columns.
Today’s column begins a series arguing that the public needs to hear more about Washington’s patterns of corruption. Remember: Corrupt elected officials need not meet normal security clearances.
That’s the real story the public should care about regarding Hastert, who was elected to Congress in 1986. He resigned in 2007 to work as a lobbyist. His photo is from a C-SPAN appearance after he lost weight during recent years.
Update: AP via Washington Post, Hastert enters not guilty plea during 1st court appearance, June 10, 2015.
Hastert, the longest-serving Republican speaker in U.S. history, left office quietly. The ostensible reason? Because Democrats had prevailed in the 2006 House elections, thereby preventing his continuation in the top job.
Federal authorities unsealed an indictment May 28 accusing the former Illinois lawmaker of banking violations and false statements to the FBI stemming from his alleged agreement to pay $3.5 million hush money for matters unspecified in the indictment. He had represented the Illinois 14th district, which is west of Chicago and surrounds Aurora.
Sources later alleged the cover-up involved sex with an underage male while Hastert was a teacher and coach at Yorkville High School. The question of how Hastert obtained so much money is seldom being raised.
The defendant is scheduled for arraignment June 9 in Chicago’s federal court. He has not commented publicly on the charges. But many longtime friends have expressed disbelief in any wrongdoing and vouched for his good character.
In 2006, I observed a series of exposés of Hastert’s pedophilia published by investigative reporter Wayne Madsen, shown below on a panel May 30 at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City.
Nine years ago, the nation's capital had two major sex scandals.
One involved a federal prosecution of Deborah Jeane Palfrey, the so-called "DC Madam," for running an escort service providing high-end call girls to customers who included those from important government, business and celebrity media positions. Another scandal focused on Republican Congressman Mark Foley of Florida, who had been sending lewd messages to underage male teens enrolled in the congressional page program.
Some reporters suggested that Hastert and other senior GOP colleagues had been less than diligent in overseeing the page program and Foley.
Madsen went far beyond that to argue that Hastert and other named Republicans were participants in Washington's covert gay sex scene while winning elections on gay-bashing platforms, and that Hastert was a pedophile dating back to his days as a high school wrestling coach.
The reporter developed his story beginning with a tip from a Washington gay man who professed intimate knowledge of Hastert's physical characteristics and practices. Madsen then drew on his political and investigative contacts in the Chicago area familiar with Hastert, who was married but lived in Washington with his chief of staff and another man.
The reporter also wrote that Hastert and his congressional colleagues were suspected of abuses on junkets to overseas locales where under-aged boys have been sexually abused with the complicity of diplomatic personnel, thereby disgracing the United States in the eyes of local populations and also wasting U.S. taxpayer money. Madsen has traveled to Thailand and other southeast Asian nations at considerable risk and expense to report on children used in sex trafficking and their procurers, and also to confront U.S. diplomatic personnel he suspected were complicit.
The reporter is former Navy intelligence officer whom the FBI recruited in the 1980s to gather evidence of child pornography possession and pedophilia by his commanding officer, who was later imprisoned for the offenses. Among his projects, Palfrey entrusted Madsen as one of three reporters given her list of 20,000 customer phone records. This was part of her desperate but unsuccessful effort to avoid conviction on prostitution charges by showing official complicity with her escort service.
Such experiences and sources prompted the reporter to publish hard-hitting columns about Hastert on the Wayne Madsen Report (WMR), a subscription blog.
The rest of the media ignored Madsen's columns for the most part. The notable exception was Alex Pareene, a blogger at Wonkette. Pareene, now at Gawker, undertook no research but falsely claimed that Madsen had no sources -- a style of snarky commentary that apparently passes as being sophisticated.Instead, Madsen has been vindicated. Subscribers and friends gathered from around the country June 4 at the National Press Club to celebrate with an all-day conference the tenth anniversary of WMR.
Huffington Post, How Dennis Hastert Demonized Gays as Predators While He Was the True ‘Super-Predator,’ Michelangelo Signorile, April 13, 2016. No, it wasn’t African-American young men of the ‘90s — supposedly feral, “fatherless” and “godless” urban youth hell-bent on murder and mayhem — who were “super-predators,” a myth since exposed and which was created by the Princeton political science professor John DiIulio (who later became George W. Bush’s first director of the Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives) based on junk science.
Meanwhile, the true example of a “super-predator” appears to have been former GOP House Speaker Dennis Hastert, a man who prosecutors now say molested at least 4 boys, including a 14-year-old and one who years later took his own life. Since the statute of limitations on those crimes, which took place decades ago, has expired, Hastert will only receive up to six months in jail on charges stemming from bank withdrawals of large sums of cash in violation of federal law, in what prosecutors say was for the purpose of “hush money.” Worse yet, through the years, as he covered up the sexual assaults he committed as a wrestling coach back in Yorkville, Illinois, Hastert pushed policies and positions as a House member and as the Speaker of a far-right GOP majority from 1999 to 2007 that demonized gays in part by portraying gay men as sexual predators.
“We must continue to be proactive warding off pedophiles and other creeps who want to take advantage of our children,” the Illinois congressman stated in promoting a bill to stop exploitation of children online shortly before he became House Speaker. That was brought to light in a Politico report last year which revealed that Hastert had a file in his office labeled “Homosexuals,” which included the sexual predator smear against gay men.
AP via Washington Post, Hastert enters not guilty plea during 1st court appearance, Michael Tarm and Sara Burnett, June 10, 2015. Former U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert has pleaded not guilty to charges that he violated banking rules and lied to the FBI about promising to pay $3.5 million in hush money to conceal misconduct from his days as a high school teacher.
Politico, Dennis Hastert’s legal troubles echo the scandals of his speakership. Peter H. Stone, June 9, 2015. Congress today has among the lowest approval ratings that it’s ever had — down there with cockroaches and root canals. Dennis Hastert helped get it there, tolerating, and at times even fostering a culture of sleaze. During his speakership — the longest ever by a Republican — the House’s morass of scandals, both in breadth and depth, was unprecedented, blow after blow for an institution that on its best day is still the punchline of too many jokes. As House speaker, Rep. J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) didn’t really do anything about it. Worse, Hastert caved on reform legislation and was oblivious to early warnings about at least one scandal.
What Hastert did do was protect his closest ally and mentor, Majority Leader Tom DeLay, from tough investigation of misconduct by intervening with the House ethics oversight committee. “Hastert clearly took steps to insulate DeLay from proper investigation,” former Majority Leader Dick Armey, who preceded DeLay in that job and then left Congress in 2002, told me in a recent interview. Armey's blunt criticism is an indication that old conservative allies are washing their hands of a man who was once well respected in Republican circles now that Hastert, who was arraigned Tuesday in Illinois, is facing criminal charges himself. Those charges include lying to the FBI about improper bank withdrawals that skirted reporting requirements. Those withdrawls are allegedly connected to hush money payments by Hastert to hide what reportedly was an old incident of sexual abuse of a young boy.
Washington Post, Dennis Hastert pleaded not guilty. Now what? Janell Ross, June 10, 2015. Former House speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) pleaded not guilty Tuesday to charges that he structured bank withdrawals to avoid attracting the attention of federal regulators and lied to the FBI about the transactions. Some might have expected Hastert to appear in court, quickly enter a guilty plea and try to avoid any further public airing of the facts of the case. But a plea bargain requires negotiations. And negotiations take time. Hastert appears to have very recently switched lawyers, moving from the counsel of his former lobbying firm colleague to the client roster of an experienced white-collar crime lawyer, Thomas C. Green.
Related News Coverage
Wayne Madsen Report (WMR), In 2006, WMR reported on Hastert's blackmailable "misconduct," Wayne Madsen, May 29, 2015. Former U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) was indicted in Chicago on May 28 for lying to FBI agents about his cash withdrawals from his various bank accounts. Hastert withdrew the money, allegedly beginning in 2010, to pay an individual described only as "Individual A" in the federal indictment as blackmail over "prior misconduct" on the part of Hastert. The Chicago Tribune only referred to the blackmail as "Dennis Hastert's dark secret," but northern Illinois was abuzz with credible rumors that dark secret had something to do with Hastert's earlier years as a wrestling coach for boys at Yorkville High School outside of Chicago. The indictment indicates that Individual A had something to do with Hastert's coaching years because it begins, "from approximately 1965 to 1981, defendant John Dennis Hastert was a high school teacher and coach in Yorkville, Illinois." The indictment also states that from 2010 Hastert paid Individual A, who is said to be from Yorkville, a total of $3.5 million to "compensate for and conceal (Hastert's) prior misconduct" with the unnamed person from Hastert's past. There is no mention of his having been blackmailed as a result of his activities as Speaker. Since leaving Congress in 2007, Hastert has been a lobbyist for the Washington law firm of Dickstein Shapiro.
New York Times, Woman Says Dennis Hastert Abused Her Brother in High School, Julie Bosman and Dave Philipps, June 5, 2015. As an enthusiastic young teacher and wrestling coach, former House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert reliably had one student at his side, former classmates say. Stephen Reinboldt, a smart, slender, likable student who rose to become class president, was the wrestling team’s equipment manager. For four years, he arrived at practice early and stayed late, traveled with Mr. Hastert to overnight tournaments, even when only one wrestler was competing, and went for long rides in the coach’s sports car, sometimes driving it. On Friday, Mr. Reinboldt’s younger sister, Jolene Burdge, said her brother, who died in 1995, was also sexually abused by Mr. Hastert, but hid the fact for years because he thought no one would believe him. “Mr. Hastert had plenty of opportunities to be alone with Steve because he was there before the meets,” Ms. Burdge said on ABC’s “Good Morning America.” “He was there after everything because he did the laundry, the uniforms.” The allegation comes a week after Mr. Hastert, who served for eight years as House speaker, was indicted on charges of making cash withdrawals, totaling $1.7 million, to evade detection by the authorities and lying to investigators.
Legal Ethics Forum, U.S. v. Hastert: Some Legal Questions as the Press Gets Ahead of the Story, Stephen Gillers (a leading legal expert on ethics), May 30, 2015. It seemed pretty obvious when news of the indictment broke that Dennis Hastert was paying to cover up sexual misconduct with a minor, although we could not say male or female. Various press reports told us indirectly what editors thought - indirectly, to avoid risk of libel - referencing Hastert's work coaching wrestling and with the Boy Scouts. Am I the only reader who thought of Jerry Sandusky? But the next questions were: Did Hastert's victim still have a claim he could bring? And would demanding payment for silence be extortion, a word the press, including the Times, has now used. Regarding the limitations period in Illinois on child sexual abuse, as I read the statutes, it could be as long as 20 years after the child reaches 18. So the incident could have been as long ago as the mid-80s, depending on the age of the child at the time. The payments began in 2010. As for extortion: If the child, now and adult, hired a lawyer and threatened to sue, as many have for harm arising from the sex abuse, and the lawyer settled for $3.5 million, which Hastert was in the process of paying when indicted, that surely would not be extortion. We would call that a settlement. (For all we know, maybe the victim did hire a lawyer.)
Legal Schnauzer, The secret lives of Dennis Hastert, Bill Pryor, and other public officials raise the ugly specter of blackmail, Roger Shuler, June 10, 2015. What happens when a married public official presents himself as heterosexual but leads a homosexual life in the shadows? It raises concerns about one of the ugliest words in the English language--blackmail. We've seen it in Alabama with the rise to power of U.S. Circuit Judge Bill Pryor. We are seeing it now in the fall of former U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert. We are likely to be hearing more about it in the coming days as Hastert appears in court today and his case unfolds--probably with stories of more victims and various politicos who helped cover for the speaker.
Washington Post, Nothing gay about Hastert hypocrisy, Jonathan Capehart, June 7, 2015. In discussing the scandal engulfing former House speaker Dennis Hastert, who is due in court this week, one thing must be made absolutely clear. What he is alleged to have done to young boys has absolutely nothing to do with being gay or gay rights. The indictment against Hastert, revealed May 28, charges the Illinois Republican with lying to federal officials about why he had evaded bank regulations by making withdrawals of less than $10,000 between 2012 and 2014. That was after his numerous withdrawals of $50,000 in the previous two years raised red flags at his bank. Hastert, who was a high school teacher and wrestling coach until 1981, was trying to avoid discovery of $1.7 million of $3.5 million in hush money to a man he allegedly sexually abused when that man was a student. The FBI also talked to another individual who was not being paid by Hastert. Almost immediately after the news broke of Hastert’s indictment, folks looked to Congress for signs of hypocrisy. Former representative Barney Frank (D-Mass.), who is gay, made an assertion during an appearance on Huffington Post Live last Monday that was flat-out inappropriate. Now, where Frank gets it right is on the moral hypocrisy displayed by Hastert and so many other holier-than-thou Republicans thundering about values. Frank reminded “Hardball” host Chris Matthews that Speaker Hastert followed a line of flawed House leaders who pushed for the impeachment of President Bill Clinton in 1998: "Hastert was the third guy to be speaker. First, you had Newt Gingrich, who was having an affair with his third wife cheating on his second wife with whom he cheated on his first wife. And you then … had Bob Livingston who had to quit because he had had sex with a lobbyist. So…these people leading the charge against Clinton. Clinton was the choir boy."
Huffington Post, Fellow Congressman Was Told About Dennis Hastert Abuses, Source Says, Sam Stein, June 2, 2015. At least one member of Congress was likely aware that former House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) allegedly sexually molested a former male student prior to his time in Congress. Relatively early on during Hastert's speakership, Rep. Mel Watt (D-N.C.) was approached with news about the alleged abuse, according to a source with knowledge of the conversation that took place with Watt. The source spoke on the condition of anonymity due to the sensitive nature of the matter. According to the source, the person who approached Watt was an intermediary for the family of the abuse victim and knew the North Carolina congressman informally. It is unclear what Watt, who now directs the Federal Housing Finance Agency, did with the information.
Huffington Post, Patriot Act That Dennis Hastert Passed Led To His Indictment, Daniel Marans, May 28, 2015. On Oct. 24, 2001, then-House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) shepherded the Patriot Act through the House of Representatives. It passed 357 to 66, advancing to the Senate and then-President George W. Bush’s desk for signing. Hastert took credit for House passage in a 2011 interview, claiming it “wasn’t popular, and there was a lot of fight in the Congress” over it. Little did Hastert know at the time that the law he helped pass would give federal law enforcement the tools to indict him on charges of violating banking-related reporting requirements more than a decade later.
The Department of Justice on Thursday announced Hastert's indictment for agreeing to pay $3.5 million in hush money to keep someone quiet about his “prior misconduct.” The indictment accuses Hastert of structuring bank withdrawals to avoid bank reporting requirements, and lying to the FBI about the nature of the withdrawals. It does not reveal the “misconduct” that Hastert was trying to conceal. The recipient of the money was a resident of Yorkville, Illinois, where Hastert taught high school and coached wrestling from 1965 to 1981. The indictment suggests that law enforcement officials relied on the Patriot Act’s expansion of bank reporting requirements to snare Hastert. As the IRS notes, “the USA PATRIOT Act of 2001 increased the scope” of cash reporting laws “to help trace funds used for terrorism.” The Bank Secrecy Act of 1970, which was amended by the Patriot Act, had already required banks to report suspicious transactions.
Chicago Tribune via Huffington Post, Hastert Accused Of Secretly Profiteering From $3 Million Real Estate Deal, Mike Dorning and Andrew Zajac, March 28, 2008. Republican House Speaker Dennis Hastert and two partners turned a profit of more than $3 million on property they accumulated and sold in just over three years near the route of a proposed controversial freeway on the western fringe of suburban Chicago, according to land records and financial disclosure reports released Wednesday.
Hastert spokesman Ron Bonjean rejected the notion that the land, located 5 1/2 miles from the proposed Prairie Parkway route, rose in value because of the highway project. The speaker long has been an aggressive proponent of the highway and helped secure more than $200 million in federal funding through an earmark in federal transportation legislation. The property near Plano, Ill., was sold three months after the transportation bill was signed into law. It was purchased by a real estate developer who is planning to build more than 1,500 homes on the land. Hastert received five-eighths of the proceeds from the land sale, said Dallas Ingemunson, one of his partners. That indicates a profit of more than $1.5 million for Hastert.
Catching Our Attention on other Justice, Media & Integrity Issues
Washington Post, Beau Biden prosecuted one of the worst pedophiles in American history, Justin Wm. Moyer, June 1, 2015. In 2010, just five years before his death this weekend, the time was never better for Beau Biden to make a run for the U.S. Senate. He was performing well as Delaware’s attorney general; his father, Joe Biden, had left Capitol Hill in 2008 to join President Obama in the White House; a family friend had been keeping the seat warm for the young man. But Biden declined. But “the case of great consequence” Biden stuck around to prosecute involved Earl Bradley — a pediatrician who perpetrated what some called “one of the worst cases of child sexual abuse” by sexually assaulting dozens, if not hundreds, of his young patients.
Washington Post, Family losses frame Vice President Biden’s career, Paul Kane, May 31, 2015. Biden brought the Yale audience to complete silence during speech. Joe Biden had one final bit of advice, a warning, really, for these very successful students. No matter how accomplished their lives turned out to be, they would not be able to control their fates.
JFK Facts, Vincent Bugliosi, JFK Conspiracy Skeptic, Dies at 80, Jeff Morley, June 9, 2015. Vincent Bugliosi, former prosecutor, best-selling author, and prolific skeptic of JFK conspiracy theories, has died. My dealings with the man were always cordial, though not productive. I read as much of his mammoth Reclaiming History as I could. I came away agreeing with him that there were many implausible JFK conspiracy theories out there – in addition to the also-implausible anti-conspiracy theory that he advocated. And that was what was problematic about Bugiliosi’s intellectual approach to the JFK story. The idea that you could get at the truth about JFK’s death by refuting every false theory strikes me as very odd. Why would you address the JFK story in such a backhanded way? “Because there are so many bad theories out there,” he said when I met him. I couldn’t disagree with that. The problem with that approach is that Reclaming History was ultimately less about the events that culminated in JFK’s death, and more about things that didn’t happen and implausible theories about things that didn’t happen. As for the question interests people – what did happen in Dallas? – Vince had not that much new to say. Despite its girth Reclaiming History is actually amounts to a slender book that restates the conclusions of the Warren Commission, without addressing most of the basic objections to it.
Washington Post, Fatal police shootings in 2015 approaching 400 nationwide, Kimberly Kindy, and reported by Julie Tate, Jennifer Jenkins, Steven Rich, Keith L. Alexander and Wesley Lowery, May 31, 2015. A Post analysis reveals about 2.6 fatal police shootings a day in 2015, nearly twice the rate reported by the FBI in the past decade - a statistic based on incomplete data from police agencies.