Oh, THAT Dennis Hastert

Why is it a crime to evade government scrutiny?

hastert-dennis-displayThis is how much I had forgotten about Dennis Hastert: when I heard that the longest-serving Republican Speaker of the House (1999- 2007) had been indicted, I couldn’t even visualize what he looked like.

There’s been a lot of back-and-forth about the “victimization” of Hastert, that perhaps the former student he paid nearly $1 million, out of $3.7 million promised, was extorting the former Congressman.

And if Hastert had actually had sex with one of his male high school students, when he was a teacher and wrestling coach between 1965 and 1981, why is he charged with, essentially money laundering, specifically, withdrawing cash from his bank accounts in amounts and patterns designed to hide the payments to the former student?

As many have correctly pointed out, this is selective prosecution. As I’ve noticed over the years, though, a LOT of prosecution is selective.

Since he cannot be charged with a sex crime – the statute of limitation has run out, and proving a case 35 or more years old would have been nearly impossible anyway – the feds went in this direction. Moreover, a second alleged victim is deceased. It’s like getting Al Capone for tax evasion.

But I DO have some questions:

Why would Hastert take out $50,000 at a time early on? Did he not know this would trigger an investigation? Or was he of the belief that he was too important to be bothered with?

Why did he even talk to the FBI about this? He was under no obligation. Lying to the FBI, telling them that he was taking out money because he didn’t trust the banks, is the second part of the indictment.

More significantly, why is it a crime to evade government scrutiny? Yeah, yeah – we’re fighting terrorism and organized crime; I know the narrative.

From the Atlantic:

To see why that is unjust, it helps to set aside Hastert’s case and consider a more sympathetic figure. Imagine that a documentary filmmaker like Laura Poitras, whose films are critical of government surveillance, is buying a used video camera for $12,000. Vaguely knowing that a report to the federal government is generated for withdrawals of $10,000 or more, she thinks to herself, “What with my films criticizing NSA surveillance, I don’t want to invite any extra scrutiny — out of an abundance of caution, or maybe even paranoia, I’m gonna take out $9,000 today and $3,000 tomorrow. The last thing I need is to give someone a pretext to hassle me.”

That would be illegal, even though in this hypothetical she has committed no crime and is motivated, like many people, by a simple aversion to being monitored.

I’m feeling conflicted. On one hand, I’m happy to see Hastert’s apparent bad behavior being brought to light. The irony that he became Speaker because he was “clean”, especially in comparison with the previous House Speaker, Newt Gingrich of Georgia, and his presumed successor, Robert L. Livingston of Louisiana, who were known to be involved in extramarital affairs.

Former Congressman Barney Frank (D-MA) blasted the Republican hypocrisy of going after President Bill Clinton for his relationship with intern Monica Lewinsky, even having him impeached when the leadership has these activities on their resumes.

On the other hand, the underlying monitoring policy, like many of the provisions of the recently modified USA PATRIOT Act, feels like government overreach. Of course, the irony is that it was the very Patriot Act that Hastert got passed that led to his indictment.

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