Much of the political world is still coming to grips with the scandal surrounding former House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), which caught so many of us off guard.
But while the legal process continues, it’s worth appreciating some historical context. Over at the Washington Post, conservative Orin Kerr did a nice job putting the charges against Hastert in the context of developments from late 1998 and early 1999.
If I understand the history correctly, in the late 1990s, the President was impeached for lying about a sexual affair by a House of Representatives led by a man who was also then hiding a sexual affair, who was supposed to be replaced by another Congressman who stepped down when forced to reveal that he too was having a sexual affair, which led to the election of a new Speaker of the House who now has been indicted for lying about payments covering up his sexual contact with a boy.
Right. Ignoring public attitudes entirely, congressional Republicans spent 1998 pursuing an impeachment crusade against then-President Clinton over an adulterous affair. Leading the charge was then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), who was having an adulterous affair – with a younger aide – at the time.
Gingrich was soon forced to resign, and his successor was Rep. Bob Livingston (R-La.), who was caught in his own adulterous affair and forced to resign. (Livingston was replaced in Congress by David Vitter, a right-wing family-values Republican who was later caught having his own adulterous affair, this time with prostitutes.)
Livingston passed the Speaker’s gavel to Dennis Hastert, who now stands accused of trying to cover up sexual misconduct with a high-school student.
We can, however, add just one more detail.
After the House impeached Clinton over his affair, one of the impeachment “managers” who made the case to the Senate was none other than Rep. Henry Hyde (R-Ill.), who was also caught having had an adulterous affair. Though it was described at the time as a “youthful indiscretion,” Hyde’s affair happened when he was 41.
During the impeachment proceedings, I specifically remember testimony from Princeton scholar Sean Wilentz, who told House Republicans that, in the future, they would be seen as “zealots and fanatics,” adding, “History will hunt you down for your cravenness.”
Seventeen years after Dennis Hastert voted “aye” on all four impeachment counts, it appears history’s hunt continues.