Hastert took responsibility for Mark Foley sex scandal in 2006
Nine years ago this month, U.S. Speaker Dennis Hastert approached a news conference microphone outside his Batavia office, ready to address a scandal that threatened his post at the height of American politics.
Rep. Mark Foley of Florida had been caught sending sexually charged Internet messages to congressional pages, and as the Republican leader, Hastert was taking heat for what some called a lackluster response to a deeply troubling problem.
A month before the November 2006 elections, Hastert sought to take control of the scandal with a scrum of media outside his suburban office, even introducing a hotline whistleblowers could call.
"The bottom line is I am taking responsibility for it because ultimately ... the buck stops here," he said at the news conference, which survives in a video online. "I am deeply sorry that this happened," he said.
Today, Hastert pleaded guilty to federal charges that he paid $1.7 million in hush money to an associate, a move that seems designed to keep the reasons for those payments from being aired in open court. And he left the media gauntlet in Chicago without taking questions.
The quiet is in contrast to that 2006 news conference where Hastert tried to show he had the scandal under control and was ready to take responsibility.
"Ultimately, anytime that a person has to, as a leader, be on the hot seat, (and) he is a detriment to the party, you know, there ought to be a change. I became speaker in a situation like that," said Hastert, who became speaker in late 1998 when the GOP's initial candidate dropped out after it came out he'd had an extramarital affair. "I don't think that's the case (today)."
In his own scandal, Hastert has so far not given his side of the story to address the anonymous court sources that told The Associated Press and others the charges relate to a sexual relationship dating to his time as a wrestling and football coach at Yorkville High School.
The guilty plea is a stunning end to a political career built on his personal story as a high school coach rising to become the longest-serving Republican House speaker in American history, serving during the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
A month after that news conference, Democrats led by then-Rep. Rahm Emanuel of Chicago would defeat enough Republicans to gain control of Congress for a few years until Republicans won the gavel back in 2010. The leadership drama at the Capitol continues as Republicans are set to formally name Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan as their speaker this week.
Many of Hastert's allies from the time have been hesitant to talk to reporters about his stunning case, and the town of Yorkville where he once taught has been occasionally flooded with reporters from across the country since the federal indictment was made public in May.
Legal experts widely agree Hastert's plea is intended to limit the public information in the case to the relatively mundane banking offense prosecutors have accused him of, but there's no guarantee the same kind of leaks that exposed the Foley scandal nine years ago couldn't happen again.
"There's no way to prevent that," former assistant U.S. attorney Ricardo Meza told the Daily Herald this month. "And it could clearly happen."
Hastert's plea agreement includes a line that suggests more could be coming at his February sentencing hearing, but it doesn't elaborate.
"The government will make known all matters in aggravation and mitigation relevant to sentencing," the agreement reads.