Former House Speaker Dennis Hastert, who led the Republican majority in Congress from 1999 to 2007, was indicted Thursday by the Justice Department for illegally structuring cash withdrawals to evade bank reporting requirements and lying to the Federal Bureau of Investigations. According to the Chicago U.S. Attorney's Office, the indictment alleges Hastert agreed to pay out $3.5 million to an individual "in order to compensate for and conceal his prior misconduct." Hastert is accused of purposefully structuring the payments in increments, beginning in 2012, in order to avoid triggering bank reports to the IRS that are required for cash withdrawals over $10,000.
From 1998 to 2006, House Republicans suffered one ugly scandal after another. Democrats used the "culture of corruption" label to great effect, precisely 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 Dennis Hastert was always seen as the exception. No matter how many scandals surrounded House Republicans, the party 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. Hastert was the island of stability and propriety in a sea of Capitol Hill scandals.
As Rachel reported on the show last night, however, of late yesterday, all of those perceptions have suddenly changed quite dramatically. From Benjamin Landy's msnbc report:
Hastert, who became a D.C. lobbyist after retiring from Congress, has resigned from his position in the wake of yesterday's criminal indictment.
The story is still fairly new, and at this point, there are some key questions about the controversy that do not yet have answers.
According to the relatively brief, seven-page indictment, an unnamed person approached Hastert in 2010, confronting him with alleged misconduct that had happened "years earlier." Soon after, the Republican began paying the unnamed person with a series of cash installments.
Note, the indictment does not relate to the underlying allegation, but rather, Hastert's handling of the matter -- he tried to circumvent banking reporting requirements, and according to prosecutors, lied to the FBI about his activities.
There were apparently some rumors about a possible indictment, but Hastert told Politico last week that those rumors were untrue.
The obvious next questions will very likely be answered as the legal proceedings continue. Who is the unnamed accuser and what, exactly, does he or she allege Hastert did "years earlier"?
The former Speaker will be reportedly arraigned at a federal court in Chicago sometime soon.