I can’t count the number of times I’ve stood in the lobby of Chicago’s Dirksen Federal Building to witness a prominent public figure thread his way throughametal detector, past a teeming scrum of cameras and reporters, to the elevators that go to the courtroom where he stands before a judge and enters a plea.
The list is too long for this space.
It is a ghastly walk. One that J. Dennis Hastert, the 73-year-old former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, will takeon Tuesday.
“No matter how experienced or rich or important you are, you can be beaten,” Hastert hauntingly wrote in his 2004 memoir“Speaker: Lessons from Forty Years in Coaching and Politics.”
“The unforeseen can and will happen every time,” he wrote. “It’s how prepared . . . you are that counts.”
Seems Hastert was not prepared at all, if there is any truth to the rumors and accusations. Ignoring the lessons taught by former colleagues who preceded him in scandal and disgrace. Ignoring the most basic Crime 101 lessons found in reruns of Law & Order. Namely, never lie to the FBI; never talk to the feds without a lawyer; and never try to mask bank transactions when your bank already warns that it’s watching.
But Hastert, if there is truth to this, was in a panic to pay out $3.5 million — a staggering sum even for the rich lobbyist he’d become — for “past misconduct” toward someone from his high school coaching days.
Itisan oblique indictment.
But federal leaks quickly filled in the blanks anonymously, saying that the misconduct was sexual involving a young male. Then cameFriday’sABC News’ interview by Brian Ross with the sister of another of Hastert’s alleged victims, Stephen Reinboldt,who died of AIDS in 1995. Back in 1970, Reinboldt was the student equipment manager for Hastert’s Yorkville High School wrestling team.Reinboldt’s sister, Jolene, told Ross she confronted Hastert at her brother’s funeral about what he had done.
Two weeks ago, prior to Hastert’s indictment, the FBI visited Reinboldt’s sister and, according to Ross, told her of Hastert’s impending indictment.
Not on charges of child sexual abuse.The statute of limitations had run out.But for bank fraud and lying about it.
Neither Hastert nor anyone representing Hastert has so far said a single word to explain or defend.Hastert has disappeared from public view.
We don’t know what he is thinking.
But we can take a stab at what the feds are thinking.
A former federal prosecutor I know calls this case “rough justice.” That in peeling back unusual bank transactions of the former speaker, the feds found something far worse but couldn’t charge it. So they charged what they could similar to Al Capone being taken down only on income tax charges.
Let’s return to Hastert’s memoir for a moment.The part where he writes: “I was never a very good liar. Maybe I wasn’t smart enough. I could never get away with it, so I made up my mind as a kid to tell the truth and pay the consequences.”
On Tuesday, J. Dennis Hastert will have his chance.