Former House Speaker Dennis Hastert has been accused of sexually abusing four teenaged boys during his tenure as a high school coach many years ago, but the statute of limitations has expired and he cannot face charges for these misdeeds. The Illinois Republican was, however, arrested for lying to the FBI about covering up his sex crimes.
And this afternoon, it was this misconduct that will put Hastert behind bars.
Former House Speaker Dennis Hastert was sentenced Wednesday to 15 months in prison for illegal cash withdrawals he made for payoffs to cover up sex-abuse allegations after the judge called him a "serial child molester."
Before issuing his sentence, Judge Thomas M. Durkin pressed the former House Speaker on the details of his misconduct, asking Hastert directly if he sexually abused his victims. "Yes," Hastert said, publicly acknowledging this for the first time. He added, "What I did was wrong and I regret it. They looked to me and I took advantage of them."
In an additional gut-wrenching detail, one of these victims, Scott Cross, testified today that Hastert molested him when Cross was a teenager. Cross is the younger brother of former Illinois House Republican leader Tom Cross, who looked up to Hastert as a political mentor.
Hastert actually asked Tom Cross for a letter of support as part of his criminal case, despite the fact that Hastert molested his younger brother.
As part of this morning's proceedings, the judge in the case explained, in reference to Hastert's political career, "Sometimes actions can obliterate a lifetime of good works." The judge referred to Hastert three times as a "serial child molester."
In a breathtaking letter to the judge, former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) recently wrote, "We all have our flaws, but Dennis Hastert has very few." DeLay added that Hastert "doesn't deserve what he is going through."
Evidently, that didn't prove persuasive.
There is, of course, the human element of this heartbreaking story, and the anguish felt by Hastert's victims and their families. And then there are the political implications: the longest serving Republican House Speaker in American history, a man who was two heartbeats from the presidency of the United States for eight years, appears to have spent part of his life as a serial child molester, unbeknownst to anyone except Hastert and his victims.
As we discussed a few weeks ago, from 1998 to 2006, House Republicans suffered one ugly scandal after another. Democrats used the "culture of corruption" label to great effect because it was true -- from Gingrich to Livingston, DeLay to Cunningham, Ney to Foley, the GOP's House majority just couldn't stay out of trouble.
But no matter how many scandals surrounded House Republicans, GOP officials pointed to the humble Speaker from Illinois as the squeaky clean leader, elevated to the post from relative obscurity because of his above-the-fray reputation.
And now we know his conduct was far worse than any of his colleagues'.
In addition to his 15-month sentence, Hastert will also reportedly have to pay a $250,000 fine and take part in sex-offender programs.