Federal sources: Denny Hastert was paying someone off to conceal past sexual misconduct

I wonder what evidence the alleged extorter has, so many years later, to scare Hastert enough that he’d have been willing in 2010 to pay $3 million to try to shut him up. The statute of limitations of whatever he’s accused of has surely run; he’s worth millions and had no political career left to lose by the time the alleged payoffs started happening. He could have dismissed the allegations publicly as nonsense, part of some old vendetta against him or whatever, and then retired quietly from lobbying.

Whatever the evidence is, it must have been awfully strong for him to decide to pay up.

The actions date to Hastert’s time as a Yorkville, Ill., high school wrestling coach and teacher, [a federal law enforcement] official said.

“It goes back a long way, back to then,” the source said. “It has nothing to do with public corruption or a corruption scandal. Or to his time in office.”  Thursday’s indictment described the misconduct “against Individual A” as having “occurred years earlier.”

Asked why Hastert was making the payments, the official said it was to conceal Hastert’s past relationship with the male. “It was sex,’’ the source said. The other official confirmed that the misconduct involved sexual abuse.

He’s been indicted for “structuring” his payments, i.e. withdrawing a larger sum in multiple small increments in order to avoid federal reporting requirements, and for lying to the feds about it. Mollie Hemingway has a smart piece out today arguing that those reporting rules are frequently egregiously unfair in how they punish innocent transactions but also noting that Hastert was suspiciously wealthy by the time he left Congress for a guy who’d moved from a high-school teacher’s salary to a congressman’s salary with nothing lucrative in between. Turns out he’d made a killing on real estate over the years, including and especially on some properties that just so happened to grow in value thanks to a $200 million federal earmark for a new highway that conveniently ran right by them. It’s not just the alleged sexual misconduct that’s dubious here. And it’s not just Hastert who’s acted dubiously: Not only does this case involve a multimillion-dollar extortion attempt, but as litigators are pointing out on Twitter, the two feds who leaked the details of Hastert’s misconduct to the LA Times should rightly be held in criminal contempt for violating federal grand-jury secrecy rules. Lots of stink in the air on this one.

But back to Hastert. Why would he be so nervous about someone coming forward years later to accuse him of abuse, likely without much hard evidence to support his claim? An obvious possibility: There was more than one victim, and having one victim come forward might have encouraged others to follow suit a la Bill Cosby and his accusers. And in fact, per BuzzFeed’s sources, that may be exactly what happened:

A source familiar with the investigation told BuzzFeed News that U.S. Attorney Zachary Fardon considered but did not pursue additional charges against former Speaker Dennis Hastert, which would have included a reference to an Individual B, one of potentially several alleged victims of “prior misdeeds.”…

The Department of Justice had no comment. A spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois didn’t respond to a request for comment. A lawyer for representing Hastert in another pending legal matter didn’t respond to a request for comment.

“Another pending legal matter”? What could that be?

Maybe this explains why Hastert, as Speaker, didn’t make a big show of trying to force out Mark Foley in 2006 when his office first learned that Foley had sent explicit texts to congressional pages. There was oppo out there on him, apparently far more serious than what Foley himself was accused of, that would have ended his career instantly had it come out. Which raises the question: Why didn’t it come out at the time, after Hastert and the GOP finally moved against Foley? Why would the alleged extorter have waited until after Hastert had left office to try to shake him down? He had far more to lose, and therefore presumably would have been willing to pay much more to ensure silence, while he was still serving as Speaker than afterward.

The inevitable exit question: Did anyone in the party know? Hard to believe they would have gambled on making him Speaker if there was even the slightest inkling of this in political circles.