In 1987, I sat down for a bowl of chili and a beer (or two or three) with a newly-elected Congressman and his chief aide at Hard Times Cafe in Arlington, Virginia.
At the time, I did not know that I was also dining with a child molester.
The dinner invitation came from Peter Vroom, the administrative assistant for Illinois Congressman Dennis Hastert. I met Vroom while working on the winning 1988 campaign of former Corning Glass CEO Amo Houghton.
Hastert, a burly former wrestling coach, seemed amiable enough as we talked about Illinois and Republican politics. Our consumption of chili and beer continued into the evening. I paid the tab on my expense account from the National Association of Realtors, where I served until 1992 as Vice President in charge of the Political Programs Division.
Did I sense I was dining with an elected official with a lot to hide? Sadly, no.
Hastert later became implicated the the House banking scandal, which allowed members of Congress to consistently overdraw their Congressional checking accounts without penalties or fees or bounced paper.
The House banking system, run at the time by the Clerk of the House, often had many Congressman with overdrafts of thousands of dollars. Some, like California Congressman Bill Lowery, wrote more than 300 checks that created more than $104,000.
Hastert wrote 44 bad checks.
As he rose in the Republican House leadership, Hastert developed a “close relationship” with Texas Congrssman Tom DeLay, then majority leader after Republicans seized control of the House in 1994. DeLay then resigned while under investigation for campaign finance violations and was indicted in 2005.
Republican Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich resigned after revelations he was screwing House Agriculture Committee Staff member Calista Bisek, 23 years younger. Gingrich divorced his second wife and married Bisek four months later.
Hastert lobbied for, and became, Speaker after the first choice of Republicans, Louisiana Rep. Robert L. Livingston, admitted a series of extramarital affairs.
When the House elected Hastert as the new Speaker, it replaced serial adulterer Newt Gingrich with a child molester.
Hastert had been paying “hush money” over the years, because he sexually abused former student Steve Reinboldt at Yorkville High School. Hastert molested the student him during his four years at the school. Reinboldt died from an AIDs related illness in 1995. Hastert attended Reinboldt’s funeral viewing, which angered the victim’s sister. She confronted Hastert and said “I just want you to know your secret didn’t die in there with my brother.”
On May 29, 2015, a grand jury indicted Hastert on charges of illegally “structuring financial transactions to try and conceal $1.7 million in payments to try and cover up his child molestation. Another student came forward with revelations of sexual abuse by Hastert.
Hastert first denied his actions but later entered a guilty plea and admitted he was a sexual abuser of students. He suffered a stroke after the plea and appeared in court in a wheelchair. He also admitted molesting at least four boys while coaching wrestling.
Jolene Burdge, the sister of the late Steve Reinboldt, told Hastert in the sentencing hearing:
I’m here to hold you accountable for sexually abusing my brother. I knew your your secret and you couldn’t bridge or intimidate your way out. You think you can deny your abuse of Steve because he can no longer speak for himself. That’s why I’m here.
Scott Cross, another victim of Hastert’s sexual molestation, also spoke and told the court that he suffered “intense plain, shame and guilt.” Cross is a younger brother of longtime Illinois Congressman Tom Cross, who was a political mentor to Hastert.
U.S. District Judge Thomas M. Durkin called Hastert a “serial child molester” and sentenced the former Congressman and Speaker of the House to 15 months in federal prison, two years of “supervised release” after the jail time and a $250,000 fine.
Hastert got off easy. He could not be tried for his actual child molestation because the statute of limitations had expired in Illinois. Several members of Congress wrote Judge Durkin and asked for no jail time for their former colleague. At least two — scandal-disgraced Tom Delay and John T. Doolittle — were implicated in the scandal that sent former Washington super lobbyist Jack Abramhoff to prison.
New York Times’ columnist Frank Bruni noted the Republicans who came forward to support a lesser penalty and no jail time for Hastert “affirm the degree to which pacts rather than principle govern partisan politics today.”
Have we learned anything from all this?
It would be nice to say “yes,” but when one looks at the two expected nominees for President this year, the answer must be a resounding “no.”
One is a misogynist, flamboyant serial-adulterer who publicly admitted a sexual attraction to his daughter and the other is the wife of a former adulterous President who enjoyed blowjobs from a White House intern and while she may not have participated in any of her husband’s dalliances, she has her own skeletons that, in my opinion, raise serious questions about her ability to be our President.
(Edited for clarification)