Looking back at former Speaker Hastert

Looking back at former Speaker Hastert 

Posted: 2:00 am Monday, June 1st, 2015

By Jamie Dupree

The stunning developments of the past few days involving ex-Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) were a fresh reminder that my father had definitely given me the right advice on my first day at work on Capitol Hill 35 years ago this month.

“There’s a reason they call it the House of Representatives,” he said just before dropping me off at the U.S. Capitol in June of 1980, explaining that lawmakers in Congress had many of the same personal failings as everyday Americans.

That advice about Congress was much like an answer that Speaker Hastert himself had given me during the controversy over allegations that ex-Rep. Mark Foley (R-FL) had been targeting male congressional pages.

“The fact is, people get elected to Congress, and there’s bad apples I guess in 435 people,” Hastert said about Rep. Foley during an October 3, 2006 interview I did with the Speaker on the Neal Boortz radio show.

What we didn’t know at the time was that almost nine years later, some might now say Hastert was one of those bad apples in the Congress.

That’s what has so many people on Capitol Hill still stunned.

Before the stories of the last few days, there had never been any hint of trouble involving Hastert, who was first elected to Congress in 1986, and holds the mark for the longest service as Speaker of the House by a Republican.

But the details behind a federal indictment issued last week dealing with financial transactions has now blossomed into a story involving hush money and sexual abuse while Hastert was a high school wrestling coach – before his career in Congress.

And it also raised fresh questions about how Hastert had dealt with questions about links between a GOP Congressman from Florida and young congressional pages in 2006.

The Mark Foley scandal

One of the findings of the House Ethics Committee was that Speaker Hastert had been told by other members of concerns related to Congressman Foley and his contacts with House Pages, and yet not much was done about it.

For example, then Majority Leader – now Speaker – John Boehner, said he had gone to Hastert with information related to Foley that had been brought to his attention by Rep. Rodney Alexander (R-LA).

“Majority Leader Boehner testified that within half an hour of being briefed by Rep. Alexander, he believes that he briefed Speaker Hastert on the matter on the House floor, and that Speaker Hastert said that the matter ‘has been taken care of.’”

The investigation also established that top staffers of Hastert had been told about the situation, as had top officials who ran the operations of the U.S. House.

At the time, Hastert sternly denied that he had ignored the rumors about Foley.

“I tell you, I’ve done everything that we can to protect those Pages,” Hastert said in our interview in 2006.

“As soon as we knew about it, we called for an investigation,” Hastert said, though listening back to the interview almost nine years later, that assurance rang somewhat hollow.

Was anything from Hastert’s own past ringing in his own head? Had it impacted the way he dealt with the Foley case along the way?

More importantly, were there other bad apples in the House that merited attention, but didn’t get it from the Speaker?

I ask those type of questions as a former House Page myself; my very first day on the job, one worker on the House floor warned me to be careful, pointing out about a half dozen members during a vote.

“If any of them ever look you up and down, you walk the other way,” I was told.

About that time, the Page Scandal of the early 1980’s was brewing; after it became public, I telephoned back to Washington, D.C. and spoke to people about the news.

One of the Page supervisors assured me that nothing was wrong.

But, that was a lie.

That aide later quit his job after the Ethics Committee found he had been “engaging repeatedly in sexual relations with a 17-year-old page under his supervision.”

That same ethics investigation also established that two House members had sex with pages, Rep. Gerry Studds (D-MA) with a male page and Rep. Daniel Crane (R-IL) with a female page.

The scars from 1983 combined with the 2006 Page scandal involving Mark Foley ultimately led to the end of the historic House Page program. That move still leaves me disappointed – but I understand why the decision was made.

There were bad apples well before my work began on Capitol Hill, and there will be bad apples for many years to come in the House of Representatives.

“That’s a problem that you have to deal with,” Speaker Hastert told me.

You just hope those bad apples don’t take advantage of a teenage student, whether it is a kid working in the halls of Congress, or one in any high school in America.