Had Hastert’s Horrible Humiliation Had to Happen?

(1) Lady JustinceDid Denny’s disgraceful dalliance demand his destruction I asked myself? Was not there another way that the matter could have been handled without humiliating him in his waning years?

Prior to his indictment I knew almost nothing about the man other than he was a Republican Congressman who had gained the office of Speaker of the House of Representatives to the surprise of many. Others seemed more apt for the position but a compromise candidate had to be found and Denny was selected. He served his term as Speaker and faded off into the sunset. I did not know he had become a lobbyist although if I thought about it I would have guessed that is one thing he might have done. I did not know he became rich, or relatively rich, during his years in Congress but again that would not have been surprising. I thought he came from somewhere in the upper middle western part of the U.S. without knowing the state because that seems to be the place people not too hot or too cold dwell.

I ask are you or I or our country better off that we now suspect that he had inappropriate sexual relationships with boys during the time he was a high school teacher outside of Chicago? Would there have been something so terribly wrong to let the public notice of it pass and not stain his reputation?

Having been a prosecutor in a position where I made decisions on things like this I could not help wondering what I would have done. How would I have used my prosecutorial discretion?  Yes, that is right, I did not bring a prosecution against every person who I had reason to believe committed a crime. I sometimes thought the better course was doing something else or nothing. To quote Brendan Sullivan, I was not a potted plant. My job demanded that I make those decisions.

Here’s what I figured happened in Denny’s case. Let us assume that he had inappropriate sexual relations with Boy, a high school student when he was a teacher.  At some point in the last six years Boy confronted him about it saying he would go public unless he was paid money to keep his mouth shut. It wasn’t going to be a small amount that would buy his silence; he wanted many millions but they settled on 3.4 million. He wanted it in cash.

Denny started to pay him. At some point some federal got wind of it. They put a tail on Denny to see what he was doing with these cash withdrawals. They quickly found out he was giving the money to Boy. They checked on where the money Denny was transferring came from and found it was legitimate; they checked the background of Boy and found he was not a criminal. Unable to figure out why they were doing this they confronted Boy and Denny.

Boy either right away or after being pressured (“you’ll spend the rest of life in prison for extortion and income tax evasion”) told them the story. They went to Denny and asked him about the withdrawals. He lied about them at first. Then they told him they knew about Boy.

Now let us assume the matter came across my desk as the prosecutor.

Reviewing the facts I would see I could charge Denny with two minor felonies each having a penalty of five years in prison: 1:/ of evading bank regulations by withdrawing $952,000 in increments of less than $10,000 to skirt reporting requirements designed to deter money laundering, and, 2:/ lying to the FBI about the reason for the unusual withdrawals. I would know the crime involving the money existed not to thwart blackmailers but drug dealers; and with respect to the FBI agent I’d understand that if Denny were paying off someone to keep his mouth shut he was not going to admit doing it to an FBI agent because that would defeat the purpose of all those payments. The FBI agent would ask why and the cat would be out of the bag.

I would know I could not charge him with anything relating to his sexual misconduct. Even if I believed he was a sleaze while Speaker I had no charges for that. I would know the offenses I  could charge him with are bottom rung offenses and that Denny would not be imprisoned. I would also know that once I charged him the matter would become a highly publicized case and that I would forever ruin Denny’s reputation. I would also know that Boy had committed crimes but he was getting a pass and that he was willing to take money in recompense for his injury.

In other words by indicting him all I would really accomplish is to let the world know (through the inevitable federal leaks) that Denny as a young teacher was involved sexually with Boy 40 or more years earlier.

I think I would have had Boy and Denny into the office. I would have worked out a voluntary  agreement between them and settled the matter. I would understand that Denny was not going to be further punished for his sexual offenses on Boy or any other he may have violated when he was a young teacher. The statute of limitations had long passed.

I would not have indicted him because the only purpose in doing that would be to shame him. That was not part of my job.

14 thoughts on “Had Hastert’s Horrible Humiliation Had to Happen?

  1. What now? Is the media going drive Hastert toward suicide? By all rights, Boy could have put a couple pills into Hastert, but, didn’t. Instead, with calculation, he squeezed the congressman. As you point out, Boy is an extortionist. I would have felt sympathy for him had he killed Hastert, but, black-mailing him for decades is too much for me. Your solution is genuinely Solomonic, unfortunately, despite your wisdom, the media would have crucified Hastert, anyway. The Chicago Tribune has no reputation for mercy.

    1. Khalid:

      It could have all been handled outside of the media’s knowledge. What harm would have been done by that. Now Hastert is damaged goods; he probably won’t last too much longer after this suicide or not since he’s not going to enjoy being part of the circus that will surround his case.

  2. Matt,
    Public records show that at least in 2000 it was alleged that Mr Hastert had inappropriate behavior with at least one of his former students. This made him a PEP (Politically Exposed Person). And, we all know how vulnerable to pressure PEPs can be. So now 15 years later Mr. Hastert is caught in extortion for something that was already known for 15 years? Perhaps as Paul Harvey was want to say…and, now for the rest of the story..

    1. Jean:

      It is strange that it being known in 2000 that nothing came of it. He was speaker at the time. I wonder why the blackmailer Boy didn’t come forward at that time when he was in that powerful position, or did he? That is when he would seem to be most vulnerable. I’m sure the media will do its best to give you the rest of the story whether it is true or not.

  3. I don’t buy into the “poor Denny” narrative. Since we’ve accurately described Hastert’s former victim as a major-league blackmailer, let’s do the same for Hastert: Denny is, or was, a pederast. He was also a key leader in a corrupt Congress. The man reaped $3.5 million on a single shady real estate deal in which he and two confederates purchased hundreds of acres of undeveloped land in Illinois. Hastert then earmarked into a transportation bill the money for a highway and a interchange a mile or so from his land. The value of his land skyrocketed. It’s very important to note that the Illinois transportation department and the people who live in the area were both opposed to this project. It was shoved down their throat to make Dennis Hastert rich.

    So this is the grandfatherly Denny Hastert that I see. Should the feds have kept his secret? Would a federal prosecutor thinking defensively fear that his failure to indict might leaver him open to charges of covering up Hastert’s currency manipulations and pederasty? I agree that the federal charges are, at best, slender. But it seems to me that this is the risk you take when you travel the road to riches that Hastert chose for himself.

    To me, this is so far a story without heroes or victims. It does have villains, and Hastert is one of them. Have a look at this story by Norm Ornstein: http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2015/06/dennis-hastert-scandal/394754/

    1. Dan:

      You make some very good points. I hope others consider them as they consider what I said and make up their minds.

      1. Thanks, Matt. We might discover down the road that your compassionate approach would have been the right way to proceed in this case. Hopefully, we’ll get enough facts to make up our minds.

  4. I read your earlier piece on “accord and satisfaction” the same day the Hastert story broke. Despite having lived almost half my life in Massachusetts I had never heard of the concept before. When I read about the Hastert case, my first thought was, “I wonder if Illinois has a similar law.”

    Wouldn’t the payments then be legal “accord and satisfaction” for the injury suffered? Does the perp have to be charged, or can he legally settle on his own volition? Since this is a civil settlement, wouldn’t a confidentiality agreement potentially be a proper part of the settlement? As settlement for an injury they wouldn’t be taxable under federal law. In the papers they were saying that Illinois recently eliminated the statute of limitations for sex crimes against minors, which would be a reason for Hastert to settle civilly. So while the whole thing is seamy, the only thing illegal is the currency transfers.

    And can Hastert now sue “Witness A” for breach of contract for violating the confidentiality agreement?

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