J. Dennis Hastert, the longest-serving Republican House speaker in history, was swept from leadership in 2006 on a wave of Republican revulsion over what critics saw as a legislative favor factory he presided over in Congress. That wave deposited him on K Street, a prime address for the capital's lobbyists, where his influence and good name kept the favors flowing – including into his bank accounts.
Federal law enforcement agents say Mr. Hastert's years as a lobbyist and rainmaker explain how he was able to promise $3.5 million in cash to a former student who claims Mr. Hastert sexually molested him decades ago…
With a salary of probably $1 million, compensation for serving on boards of directors, speaker's fees and a book deal, the money was there to pay in cash what law enforcement officials say Mr. Hastert paid, said former Representative Jack Kingston, a Republican who led the Appropriations Committee.
"Yeah, it's possible he could amass in a 10-year period a nest egg of $5 to $10 million," he said. "I'm not saying it's easy, but it's not that hard." – New York Times, May 31, 2015
Former House Speaker Denny Hastert's indictment is remarkable for several reasons, not least being the way it exposes the U.S. government's inherent corruption.
Why is it that former senators and representatives so often become wealthy? It is because they can deliver government favors to private interests. That they can get millionaires doing this is less significant than the fact that these favors exist in the first place.
If Washington lacked power to grant these favors, businesses wouldn't pay to acquire them and people like Hastert wouldn't get wealthy delivering them. The root problem is the favors, not the way they are distributed.
Nonetheless, Representative Kingston's comment is instructive. He says earning as much as $10 million within a decade of leaving office is "not that hard," and he is probably right. If a company can spend $1 million on a lobbyist and earn $100 million in government contracts, most will gladly pay. The real mystery is why the lobbyists don't charge even more.
We can also look at the Hastert case as an example of karmic justice. The speaker who pushed through financial monitoring provisions of the USA Patriot Act found himself ensnared in the same law. By "structuring" his cash withdrawals to avoid reporting requirements, he aroused suspicions at his bank and gave the FBI reason to investigate.
As delightful as it is to see the mighty brought low, Hastert may also be victim of a grave injustice. This is the main lesson we should draw.
We do not know for sure whether Hastert sexually molested anyone. The indictment says only that he sought to conceal "past misconduct." Some person or persons inside the investigation leaked the lurid details that now dominate headlines.
If the government thinks it can prove Hastert committed a sex crime, the right course would be to file charges and let a jury decide. They didn't do that. They instead filed minor charges and enhanced them by spreading unprovable allegations that will tarnish Hastert's reputation and harm his entire family.
The people who did this to Speaker Hastert can do the same to anyone they please.
Every American is guilty of breaking some provision of the bloated federal code. The FBI and other agencies can destroy virtually anyone's life simply by taking notice.
Law enforcement now has the power to bypass courts and inflict punishment without trial. Before we relish Hastert's downfall, we should remember that any one of us could be next.
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