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
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
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 Los Angeles Times
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.
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
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.