Workers Vanguard No. 1070

12 June 2015


Hastert Hoist on Own Petard

Prosecuted for Withdrawing His Money

(Editorial Note)

Alas poor Dennis. It wasn’t supposed to end this way. On May 28, former Republican House speaker Dennis Hastert was indicted on felony charges of violating federal banking laws and lying to the FBI. Throughout 20 years in Congress ending in 2007, Hastert was a pillar of racist reaction, anti-woman and anti-gay bigotry, proponent of imperialist marauding and domestic repression. He was a farm boy made good, a voice of small-town American values—God, family, country and enormous corporate profits—values secured by FBI spying, cop terror and mass incarceration primarily of black people under the “war on drugs.” Now, the sorry bastard Hastert is on the receiving end of a sinister prosecution for violating laws he promoted and a vicious smear campaign portraying him as a pedophile sex predator to make sure the charges stick—and destroy what’s left of his life.

According to the indictment, Hastert made a series of $50,000 withdrawals from his savings that the banks were required by law to report to the government. After bank inquiries in July 2012, Hastert made withdrawals below the $10,000 reporting threshold, triggering an FBI/IRS investigation for possible “structuring” of currency transactions to evade the reporting requirement. In December 2014, Hastert told FBI agents that he withdrew his money because he didn’t trust the U.S. banking system. (Who would?!) Hastert is charged with lying to the Feds who allege that the money was being withdrawn to pay $3.5 million to conceal “past misconduct by defendant against Individual A.”

Tempting as it is to revel in Hastert’s predicament, we recognize that the use of these legal weapons to railroad such a high-placed, right-wing establishment figure is a bad omen for less well-connected individuals and organizations of the workers movement, as well as black people and Latino immigrants lucky enough to have so much money. We demand that the charges be dropped. At stake is the right to privacy, and with it freedom of association. The banking law under which Hastert is charged, ostensibly targeting organized crime and those labeled terrorists, was adopted in 1970 and reinforced by the 2001 Patriot Act he pushed through Congress. Such laws are used against unions, defenders of the oppressed, opponents of imperialist depredations and anyone the Feds deem a thorn in their side. Deception is the modus operandi of the FBI: sting operations, entrapment schemes and confidential informants. But when Hastert purportedly prevaricated on his use of the funds, the state declared it a criminal offense.

While bank reporting regulations are intrusive, the criminalization of withdrawing money is Kafkaesque. As the New York Times reported last year, the IRS has seized assets of restaurants and other small businesses that regularly make cash deposits of less than $10,000. Be aware—abiding by the law in this exemplar of bourgeois democracy is no defense. For those it wishes to ensnare, the government can spin any innocuous activity into a crime. From the McCarthyite Red Scare hearings of the 1950s to the baseball steroid hearings of the last decade, those who committed no crime were criminalized for concealing their activities from Congressional witchhunters.

The Feds had no business snooping into Hastert’s bank withdrawals. There are thousands of reasons people would not want cops and government officials prying into their finances—from helping young women get abortions to funding political protests. In parts of the country in the 1950s-’60s, disclosure of bank withdrawals to donate money to civil rights organizations would have carried the risk of lynching. Today, people are convicted of “material support to terrorism” simply for donating to certain charities.

Hastert’s indictment didn’t identify what the “past misconduct” was. However, a day later the Feds leaked allegations of “inappropriate” touching of a male student when Hastert was an Illinois high school wrestling coach decades earlier. Thus a banal charge that would have barely survived a couple of days in the news cycles became the Hastert sex scandal—although he is not actually charged with any sexual misconduct.

We have no idea what occurred between Hastert and “Individual A.” But we do know that many lives have been ruined through prosecutions or mere allegations of consensual intergenerational sex—especially between males. We oppose the persecution of anyone who engages in consensual sex, regardless of age, gender or sexual orientation. The guiding principle for sexual relations should be that of effective consent.

Hastert played no small part in promoting the official prudery, anti-gay bigotry and hypocrisy that’s biting his ass today. He supported a constitutional amendment against same-sex marriage, anti-abortion “fetal rights” laws and prayer in public schools. But that doesn’t disqualify him from defense against charges that are a deadly danger to us all. Hands off our bank accounts!