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Friday, May 29, 2015

Moral complexities of the Hastert affair (UPDATED)

Note: This story changed as I wrote it, and will probably change again in the very near future. I will try to update.

This post is an update to the one below. If you are one the few people in this country who has not yet heard of the indictment of Dennis Hastert, former Speaker of the House, scroll down, read the earlier post, then come back here.

Last year, Hastert was on CSPAN when he got a call from an Illinois resident calling himself "Bruce." The caller said "Remember me from Yorkville?" -- then he emitted an unnerving laugh and hung up. The video embedded above captures this moment. (Catherine Thompson of TPM made this remarkable find.)

I feel reasonably sure that Bruce is the "Individual A" who figures in the indictment. So what does this incident tell us? It tells us that Bruce is creep. Even if he was victimized by a schoolteacher thirty years ago, the guy is still a creep.

One thing we know for certain about Individual A is that he is a blackmailer. No matter what the wrong committed against you, you do not have the right to follow the business model of Charles Augustus Milverton. (If you don't recognize the name, read your Sherlock Holmes.) You may have the right (both legal and moral) to go public, but extortion is criminal.

I know a lot of people will disagree with what I'm about to say, but I don't care. Presuming that the offense was sexual -- and that's a reasonable presumption at this point -- I'm going to have differing opinions of Hastert's moral culpability depending on how old Individual A was at the time and and whether consent was involved. BEFORE YOU SAY IT: Please don't begin a lecture that begins with the words "But legally...." I'm not talking about the law in this paragraph; I'm talking about my opinion.

New paragraph; new subject: Now we're going to talk about the law. As it turns out, Illinois law is a bit odd when it comes to the age of consent. Here's the code, although I don't know whether it read differently at the time. The age of consent is 17. But: "Above and beyond the age of consent, parents still have legal authority to deny access to or involvement with their child until the child is 18." Also: "The age at which a person may consent for themselves in Illinois is 17 (so long as the other person isn't an authority figure, like a teacher, coach, etc.)"

Hastert was a coach and teacher. That fact was stressed in this AP story.
"Notice the teacher and coach language," said Jeff Cramer, a former federal prosecutor and head of the Chicago office of the investigation firm Kroll. "Feds don't put in language like that unless it's relevant."
At this time, my suspicion is that Hastert did not commit statutory rape. Moreover, I doubt that he did anything without the other party's consent. The crux of this matter may lie in the fact that he was an authority figure.

The FBI's behavior is morally debatable. The purpose of the investigation is, ostensibly, to capture the extortionist. But because Hastert (the victim of extortion) appears to have lied to the investigators, the feds made public (or at least semi-public) the very action which was the basis for blackmail.

I don't think that's right. Bruce and the FBI are making me feel sympathy for a politician I have never liked. How's that for irony?

UPDATE: NBC has confirmed that the scenario I've outlined here is pretty damned close to the truth.
Former House Speaker Dennis Hastert paid a man to conceal sexual misconduct while the man was a student at the high school where Hastert taught, a federal law enforcement official told NBC News on Friday.

The official spoke on condition of anonymity. Tribune newspapers reported earlier in the day that two unnamed federal officials said that Hastert paid a man from his past to conceal sexual misconduct.
The Los Angeles Times offers much the same story.

The LAT speaks of sexual "abuse," as does Buzzfeed. But no account available thus far gives us any direct indication that consent was lacking. Similarly, we have no indication that the young man was under the age of consent in Illinois. I suspect that if either of those two factors had been present, we probably would know about it by now. And if that presumption is true, then the impropriety rests solely in the fact that Hastert was a teacher.

Okay, it's a little easier now to get our moral bearings. Obviously, it is always wrong for a high school teacher to have sex with a student, even if the student is, from a legal standpoint, a consenting adult. But just as obviously, extortion is vile. My sympathies lean toward Hastert.

However: There are also rumors that Hastert acted badly toward an "Individual B." B, if he exists, is not a blackmailer. So in this case, all of our sympathies must go to B and our condemnation must be directed against Hastert. If B exists.

There are other possibilities. Hastert was a wrestling coach, and wrestling involves moves that might be construed as inappropriate touching. I can easily see how a misapprehension might turn into a "he said, he said" situation.
FBI whistle blower Sybil Edmonds claimed in 2005 that during her work as a FBI translator she transcribed conversations in which she learned that elements of Turkish organized crime and state intelligence payed Hatert bribes, totaling tens of thousands of dollars. Vanity Fair ran an article in the same year confirming much of the story. Hastert left Congress and went to work for a lobby shop that represents Turkey, coincidence? It's difficult to feel sorry for him. Karma.
"The FBI's behavior is morally debatable."

You and I agree on this point.

What's more, the FBI knows it. That's why they took great pains to pretend they were NOT exposing the original "crime" -- yet making sure it was found out anyway, via the anonymous Fed leakers.

The FBI knew that the public would just say "So what? What's the big deal?" about the only crimes the Feds were actually charging (banking, lying). To make the public actually care about the indictments, they needed to make Hastert into a bad guy. They need to change the framing to: "We can't get him for the original crime, so we had to get him for the cover-up."

But you see, the original crime (sex) may not have even been a crime. Even if it was a crime, it wasn't a Federal crime, so the FBI had no business digging into it.

As to whether this was "extortion": I think you and others assume too much. As Glenn Greenwald pointed out today on Twitter, victims are compensated for alleged harms done, and paid to keep quiet, every day of the year in law offices and courtrooms across the country -- and it's all very legal.
So maybe the Haskert story in the narrative imposed upon us by the media is just pre-emptive recrimination to try to take the edge off the Clinton Lolita Express stuff that is yet to break mainstream.
Was just watching Chris Hayes and his guest atty Paul Butler discussing these same issues. Why did the indictment so carefully leave the misconduct unstated? To use the threat of disclosure as a cudgel to get Hastert to plead guilty? So why did they leak it anyway? This administration hates leaks and DOJ/Feds rarely leak anyway. Why?

So then Butler comes up with a theory that's the exact inverse of mine. To wit: What Hastert did 50 years ago was so heinous and wrong, the Feds felt they HAD to get him in the interest of justice, but the statute of limitations had long ago expired. So they're getting him for the cover-up.

I don't agree, but it's at least plausible.

Barney Frank has always said that there is a cabal of gay republicans in the congress, men who are deeply closeted and fearful. Frank has admitted to threatening to out them if the gay bashing legislation did not stop. And it stopped. Wonder if this could be someone else using the tactic against someone out of congress as a warning to those still there.

As for the wrestling, many high school wrestlers become out gay men. They are not going to complain, for the most part, about initiation into gay sex. But there may be others. Most of the RC scandals began with one accuser, and were rapidly followed by others. The first is the hardest to get, but once gotten the rest appear.

To my personal knowledge and experience, the rest stop/ park just outside Yorkville on Hwy 71 had a very busy gay male tea room type activity in the 70's and early 80's.
Way back then it is doubtful such a relationship was even a crime. When I was in high school in the late 1960s and early 1970s, not only were teacher-student romantic relationships not illegal, but it was not unheard of for teachers to date students and even eventually marry their students. It wasn't until the 1980s, with the public becoming more aware of sexual harassment and concerns about power differentials between teachers and students, that states got hardnosed about it. Some 23 states make it a felony for teachers and students to have sexual relationships. I agree that Hastert was blackmailed.
Don't degrade the noble practice of blackmail with the label of "extortion". A protection racket is extortion. Threatening to burn someone's house down or stick a knife in them if they don't pay is extortion. With blackmail it's merely a fee to be paid for keeping a secret. By definition blackmail ceases to be effective if the victim simply tells the truth themselves. So if the "victim" of blackmail means to keep their antics, criminal or otherwise, secret by paying compensation I have no problem with that.
Well, Stephen, I'm always reminded of Bender's great line from "Futurama": "Blackmail is such an ugly word. I prefer 'extortion.' The X makes it cool!"
There is another thing about the story that bothered me. Haster paid over three millions to protect a job that does pay waaaaay less than that where did he get the money. That should be the scandal. Not just him but all house members
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