Hastert kept his secrets while decrying molesters
Hastert once called for life sentences for 'repeat child molesters'
More than 14 years ago, the infamous kidnapping of Elizabeth Smart helped fuel a political debate over a national Amber Alert system, and then-U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert left no wiggle room in his position.
Smart was rescued in 2003, nine months after disappearing, and members of Congress were talking about what exactly the alert legislation should include.
Hastert, then the leader of the House GOP, released a statement.
"It is important to have a national notification system to help safely recover children kidnapped by child predators," Hastert's statement read. "But it is equally important to stop those predators before they strike, to put repeat child molesters into jail for the rest of their lives, and to help law enforcement with the tools they need to get the job done."
Friday, prosecutors said in a court filing that Hastert sexually abused five children during his time as a Yorkville High School wrestling coach. The acts are said to have occurred decades before his rise to the top of U.S. politics, secrets he kept during his run as a suburban member of Congress and the longest-serving Republican speaker in history.
Hastert faces a sentencing hearing later this month after pleading guilty to structuring bank withdrawals to try to pay one of those victims $3.5 million in hush money.
"Some have managed better than others, but all of them carry the scars defendant inflicted upon them," prosecutors wrote in Friday's filing.
Prosecutors have said he could qualify for a six-month sentence, while his attorneys are seeking to avoid prison time, citing his disgrace and his health.
Hastert's time as speaker ended shortly after the 2006 election, when his Republicans lost control of the House to Democrats.
In his leadership role, he occasionally decried allegations of sexual misconduct in others while, according to prosecutors, keeping quiet about his own past.
As speaker, Hastert was accused of a delayed response to reports that Florida Rep. Mark Foley had sent sexually suggestive messages to young congressional pages.
Hastert apologized weeks before the 2006 election outside his Batavia office.
"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.
In fall 2006, before the scandal broke, the Daily Herald reported Hastert had "convened a panel of Internet safety experts in St. Charles to discuss dangers of the electronic age."
When pressed, Hastert referenced how his own rise to the speaker's chair in 1998 came after the GOP's initial candidate dropped out after revelations that he'd had an extramarital affair.
"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," said Hastert, adding in reference to his role in handling the Foley affair, "I don't think that's the case (today)."
In a filing last week, Hastert's attorneys mentioned no specific misconduct but nonetheless said the former speaker is "overwhelmed by the guilt."
"Mr. Hastert's fall from grace has been swift and devastating," the filing reads. "He knows that, for the rest of his life, wherever he goes, the public warmth and affection that he previously received will be replaced by hostility and isolation."
The most recent revelations in the yearlong case drew memories from unexpected places. Prosecutors' filing Friday includes one accuser's memory that Hastert had put a "lazyboy" chair in view of the showers in the boys locker room.
Late-night host Conan O'Brien's sidekick Andy Richter posted online that he remembered that detail.
"I went to Yorkville HS '80-'84 & I remember this chair," Richter posted to Twitter. "Purportedly 'to keep boys from fighting.'"
He said he hadn't thought about it in 30 years.
"I don't find it's upsetting me now," Richter posted online. "I'm just so struck by how easy it was to do that. Nobody questioned it."