Can’t We Hold One Insider Accountable?

We need to create a name for the genre of political opinion writing devoted to explaining why people like Casper Weinberger, Scooter Libby, Dennis Hastert and anyone else who may have once shopped in the same Safeway produce aisle as Richard Cohen and Bill Press, shouldn’t have to live by the rules that the rest of us are expected to live by. You know, we’re not allowed to lie to Congress or the FBI. Why is it that seeing Beltway insiders get prosecuted for obstructing justice and perjuring themselves makes Beltway insiders so uncomfortable? And why don’t they keep their discomfort to themselves rather than publishing it for all to see? All this does is make the rest of the country angry and contemptuous.

Look at Bill Press on Dennis Hastert:

As a Democrat, I know I’m supposed to cheer now that former Republican Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) has been charged with federal crimes. But, in fact, I feel just the opposite.

It looks to me like he got a raw deal, and ended up the victim of an overzealous federal prosecutor.

Personally, I don’t give a shit if Bill Press wants to cheer or be sad, but he just accused the prosecutor of being overzealous in a case of gross sexual misconduct, lying to the Feds, and obstructing an investigation. What’s the appropriate thing to do when a guy lies to the FBI about why he’s flouting banking laws in order to pay hush money to someone he sexually molested?

So, let’s see what Mr. Press comes up with:

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t condone Hastert’s rumored sexual abuse of a former student, if that’s what happened.

Yeah, the millions of dollars Hastert paid this guy really leaves this allegation in question. And Mr. Press isn’t condoning sexual abuse of students, he’s just saying that you shouldn’t charge someone with a lesser crime.

But we’re getting to that.

But if that student still felt harmed, so many years later, why didn’t he go to the police instead of going to Hastert and hitting him up for hush money? And why hasn’t he been charged with extortion?

There’s this little thing called the Statute of Limitations that makes it impossible to charge someone for the crime of sexual misconduct with a minor in the 1970’s. And who knows whether this victim will or will not be charged with extortion, or whether or not Bill Press will think that the prosecutor is overzealous if he is.

Most of all, what does the case against the extortionist have to do with the price of tea in China?


Remember, Hastert hasn’t been charged with sexual abuse. He’s been charged with “structuring” — taking out multiple bank withdrawals to avoid federal reporting requirements on large transactions — and then lying to the FBI about it. Ironically, the law against structuring is part of the Patriot Act, which Hastert helped get through Congress.

But even that begs the question: As long as it’s his own money — and nobody’s accused Hastert of stealing — why’s it any business of the FBI whether he leaves it in the bank or not?

First of all, points are deducted here for using “begs the question” the wrong way, and I don’t care if moronic usage (if repeated frequently enough) becomes accepted usage. Bill Press is an educated and cultured man, and he looks like an idiot when he writes “begs the question.”

Secondly, as already mentioned, Hastert hasn’t been charged with sexual abuse because he can’t be charged with a crime that occurred four decades ago.

Thirdly, this is as clear-cut a case as can be imagined of a Beltway insider asking for special rules for other Beltway insiders. Hastert was Speaker of the House when this banking provision became law. Why can’t he abide by it?

Fourthly, if Hastert had honestly explained the true purpose of his skirting the banking laws, the FBI wouldn’t have charged him with anything despite the fact that he deserves to be held accountable for his crimes. And this is a point that Press conveniently ignores in this next bit.

In an interview, James E. Barz, former assistant U.S. attorney in Chicago, where the Hastert charges were filed, told me the “structuring” statute was designed for cases involving drug dealers or terrorism suspects. If they couldn’t be caught committing the actual crime, prosecutors could nab them for trading in large sums of mystery money. But, says Barz, if it’s a case of somebody taking his or her own money out of the bank to settle a private civil case, “one could legitimately question: Where’s the federal crime?”

…Barz believes it’s likely that the FBI, once tipped off to Hastert’s withdrawals, originally investigated the case because it believed it had something to do with his official duties as Speaker or as a lobbyist. Once the FBI discovered it was a private matter about alleged sexual misconduct, and had nothing to do with public or illegal funds, Barz suggested one might question what federal interest was served by proceeding rather than referring the misconduct allegations to state law enforcement to handle.

Here’s something even an idiot can understand: Hastert wasn’t settling “a private civil case.” And, in order to discover that this was about a private matter involving sexual misconduct, the FBI had to interview Hastert. That was when Hastert lied. You can’t lie to the FBI. Once you do, you’re going to get charged because it’s in the federal interest not to let people get away with lying to them. Notice, the FBI did not charge Hastert with sexual misconduct. This was because they couldn’t due to the Statute of Limitations, but even if the crime had been more recent, it wouldn’t be a federal crime.

One thing’s for sure: If his name were Denny Harris, and not Denny Hastert, these charges would never have been filed. Hastert was charged with federal crimes only because he’s a high-profile politician. And that’s neither just nor fair.

Actually, as ordinary people understand only too well, prosecutors are very reluctant to file charges against high-profile politicians. In the case of Dennis Hastert, he was protected when he was in office and could well of been prosecuted back then if Attorney General John Ashcroft actually cared about the guy third in line to the presidency taking bribes from Turkish-American criminal organizations.

Denny Harris can’t lie to the FBI and get away with it. What would be wrong is if Dennis Hastert could.

It’s really rare that anyone in power gets held accountable in this country, whether they serve in the White House, Congress, or work in corporate boardrooms. And when it actually happens, we never get to celebrate without reading columns like this from people who have no idea how much it makes us hate them.

So, what do we call this genre?

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