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“The Squeaky Clean Republican Leader”: After Admitting Sex Crimes, Former House Speaker Headed To Prison

Former House Speaker Dennis Hastert has been accused of sexually abusing four teenaged boys during his tenure as a high school coach many years ago, but the statute of limitations has expired and he cannot face charges for these misdeeds. The Illinois Republican was, however, arrested for lying to the FBI about covering up his sex crimes.

And this afternoon, it was this misconduct that will put Hastert behind bars.

Former House Speaker Dennis Hastert was sentenced Wednesday to 15 months in prison for illegal cash withdrawals he made for payoffs to cover up sex-abuse allegations after the judge called him a “serial child molester.”

Before issuing his sentence, Judge Thomas M. Durkin pressed the former House Speaker on the details of his misconduct, asking Hastert directly if he sexually abused his victims. “Yes,” Hastert said, publicly acknowledging this for the first time. He added, “What I did was wrong and I regret it. They looked to me and I took advantage of them.”

In an additional gut-wrenching detail, one of these victims, Scott Cross, testified today that Hastert molested him when Cross was a teenager. Cross is the younger brother of former Illinois House Republican leader Tom Cross, who looked up to Hastert as a political mentor.

Hastert actually asked Tom Cross for a letter of support as part of his criminal case, despite the fact that Hastert molested his younger brother.

As part of this morning’s proceedings, the judge in the case explained, in reference to Hastert’s political career, “Sometimes actions can obliterate a lifetime of good works.” The judge referred to Hastert three times as a “serial child molester.”

In a breathtaking letter to the judge, former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) recently wrote, “We all have our flaws, but Dennis Hastert has very few.” DeLay added that Hastert “doesn’t deserve what he is going through.”

Evidently, that didn’t prove persuasive.

There is, of course, the human element of this heartbreaking story, and the anguish felt by Hastert’s victims and their families. And then there are the political implications: the longest serving Republican House Speaker in American history, a man who was two heartbeats from the presidency of the United States for eight years, appears to have spent part of his life as a serial child molester, unbeknownst to anyone except Hastert and his victims.

As we discussed a few weeks ago, from 1998 to 2006, House Republicans suffered one ugly scandal after another. Democrats used the “culture of corruption” label to great effect because it was true – from Gingrich to Livingston, DeLay to Cunningham, Ney to Foley, the GOP’s House majority just couldn’t stay out of trouble.

But no matter how many scandals surrounded House Republicans, GOP officials pointed to the humble Speaker from Illinois as the squeaky clean leader, elevated to the post from relative obscurity because of his above-the-fray reputation.

And now we know his conduct was far worse than any of his colleagues’.

In addition to his 15-month sentence, Hastert will also reportedly have to pay a $250,000 fine and take part in sex-offender programs.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog,  April 27, 2016

April 28, 2016 Posted by | Dennis Hastert, House Republicans, Sexual Molestation, Speaker of The House of Representatives | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“A Distraction From The Issue Of Equal Rights”: The Long History Of The Conservative Fixation With Bathrooms

As LGBT Americans continue their fight for equality, the subject of bathrooms has taken center stage. You might remember how they were used in the argument against Houston’s Equal Right’s Ordinance.

On Tuesday, Houston voters rejected the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO) in a low-turnout election where only slightly more than a quarter of the city’s voters actually cast a ballot. Those that did turn out got to decide the fate of a broad civil rights ordinance that targeted a wide range of discrimination, from race to religion to military status to sexual orientation and gender identity.

If you paid any attention to the campaign against this law, however, you probably knew it by another name — the “bathroom ordinance.”

Anti-LGBT groups fought HERO by claiming that it would enable “any man at any time” to “enter a women’s bathroom simply by claiming to be a woman that day.” Ads featured pedophiles locking themselves in bathroom stalls with young girls. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R-TX) summarized his case against HERO in five words — “No men in women’s bathrooms.”

More recently the conservative reaction to granting equal rights to transgender people has taken the form of laws like the one recently passed in North Carolina which requires everyone to use the bathroom correlating to the gender on their birth certificate. As one North Carolina Republican legislator put it – their intent was “to restore common sense bathroom and shower management policy.”

Over our history, the subject of bathrooms has often been the “go-to” argument for conservatives who fought against civil rights. During the Jim Crow days, Southerners went to elaborate lengths to provide separate bathrooms for white and “colored” people – even installing them in their own homes for The Help.

I’m old enough to remember the days when the Equal Rights Amendment was under discussion. Conservatives dubbed that one the “Common Toilet Law.” All of the ways that amendment would have granted equal rights to women were reduced to a fear of unisex bathrooms.

I suppose it would be possible for some social psychologist to explain the underlying issues that lead to this conservative fixation on bathrooms. It simply strikes me as a very unhealthy phenomenon. But more importantly, it is a huge distraction from the issue at hand…equal rights.

 

By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, April 26, 2016

April 28, 2016 Posted by | Civil Rights, Conservatives, LGBT, North Carolina Bathroom Bill | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The Thing That Launched Trump’s Campaign”: Birtherism; Trump’s Original Sin And The Media’s Latest One

Next time you watch the news, do me a favor. Take a look at the reporters’ arms. Do they seem tired to you? Overworked? They have to be a little sore at least. Such is the vigor with which the media have been patting themselves on the back lately.

After a full year of the Trump steamroller — in which a honey-baked ham with authoritarian inclinations has managed to blow past any serious questioning of his policies or candidacy — the media apparently feel that they’re now doing their jobs.

You could see it a few weeks back in the breathless praise for MSNBC’s Chris Matthews when he interrogated Trump on abortion; or in the hype around the New York Times interview that nailed down Trump’s Strangelovian approach to nuclear weapons; or even in Trump’s recent pivot toward a more “presidential” tone. Among reporters and critics that I know, there’s a growing sentiment that Trump is changing his ways because they, the press, are taking him seriously now. They’re handling Trump not based on the job he has (obnoxious reality star) but on the job he wants (president or, perhaps, generalissimo).

Call me crazy, but I’m not totally buying this notion. I think it’s a crock. The media haven’t “done their job” with regard to Trump, and the reason why is very simple: The press have largely ignored the issue that made him a political phenomenon in the first place.

The media have overlooked Trump’s birtherism.

I’m a Catholic. I’ve seen enough baptismal water spilled to fill William Taft’s bathtub ten times over. But it doesn’t take a Catholic like me to understand the original sin of the Trump candidacy. His first act on the political stage was to declare himself the head of the birther movement. For Trump, the year 2011 began with the BIG NEWS that he had rejected Lindsay Lohan for Celebrity Apprentice, but by April, his one-man show to paint Barack Obama as a secret Kenyan had become the talk of the country. Five years later, Trump is nearing the Republican nomination for president.

In many ways, birtherism is the thing that launched Trump’s campaign. But as he nears the big prize in Cleveland, Trump has refused to disavow his conspiracy theory. In July, when Anderson Cooper pressed Trump on whether President Obama was, in fact, born in the United States, Trump’s response was, “I really don’t know.”

I’m taxing my mind to find a historical comparison here, to put this in context. I suppose Trump’s birtherism is the intellectual equivalent of the flat-earth theory; both are fully contradicted by the evidence. But then again, there is a difference between the two, and the difference is this: If a presidential candidate insisted that the USS Theodore Roosevelt would fall off the edge of the map after sailing past Catalina, Wolf Blitzer would probably ask him about it.

It’s been nine months since Cooper pressed Trump on the issue of whether he thinks the president is an American — almost enough time, as Trump might put it, to carry a baby to term in Kenya and secretly transport him to Hawaii — and still, no one has gotten an answer. In fact, most have stopped asking. It’s now known among reporters that Obama’s birthplace is a strictly verboten topic for Trump. If you bring up the subject, as Chris Matthews did in December, Trump looks at you with a glare I assume he otherwise reserves for undocumented immigrants and say, “I don’t talk about that anymore.”

Since July, there have been 12 debates, six televised forums, and enough cable interviews to combust a DVR, but the only “birther” issue extensively covered in the press has involved whether Sen. Ted Cruz was born in Calgary Flames territory. Most reporters don’t seem to want to piss off the The Donald and risk losing their access.

Look, I understand that there’s plenty of craziness to investigate in our politics. Cruz believes that global warming is a hoax. Ben Carson claimed that the Biblical Joseph built the Great Pyramid of Khufu. Heck, once upon a time, George W. Bush famously thought the jury was out on evolution.

But Trump’s birtherism is far, far more important — for two reasons:

First, in my experience, when a politician says he doesn’t talk about an issue, that’s precisely the issue you should ask him about.

Second, there’s another difference between being birther and flat-earther. It’s possible to believe the Earth is flat and not be a bigot, but it’s impossible to be a birther and not be one.

It’s no surprise Trump’s campaign has been a parade of racism after his foray into birtherism — a border wall, a ban on Muslim immigration, and the failure to denounce the Ku Klux Klan. Unlike Bush’s creationism and Carson’s historical idiocy, Trump’s birtherism can’t be written off as a minor policy quirk. It’s less of a bug than a feature. Trump, by his own admission, sees the controversy over Obama’s birthplace as foundational to his brand and instructive to how he approaches politics. When ABC asked him about his aggressive birtherism in 2013, he said, “I don’t think I went overboard. Actually, I think it made me very popular… I do think I know what I’m doing.”

I think it made me very popular… I do think I know what I’m doing.

With birtherism, Trump discovered a sad truth about modern American media: Bigotry gets you attention. And long as you bring viewers, readers, and clicks, the fourth estate will let you get away with that bigotry.

Long before Donald Trump, there was another demagogue, Huey Long, who made a run for the White House. Long was fictionalized and immortalized as the character Willie Stark in Robert Penn Warren’s novel, All The King’s Men, in which Warren wrote, “Man is conceived in sin and born in corruption.”

So, too, was Trump’s political career.

The press should get their hands off their backs and ask him about it.

 

By: James Carville, Media Matters For America, April 26, 2016

April 28, 2016 Posted by | Bigotry, Birtherism, Donald Trump, Media | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“The Issues Are Not Even Close To Parallel”: Tax Transparency: Jane Sanders Goes Back On Disclosure Promise

Jane Sanders, wife of Bernie, backtracked Tuesday on promises both she and the senator made to release the couple’s complete tax returns for the years 2006 through 2013, making a red herring excuse.

The returns will be released, Jane suggested, when Hillary Clinton provides transcript of her lucrative speeches to Wall Street firms. Clinton should absolutely release the transcripts and she should have done so long ago, but the issues are not even close to parallel.

Two wrongs do not a right make. And being a good guy politician does not exempt one from criticism from those who favor many of his policies, including me.

In comments to Wolf Blitzer on CNN midday Tuesday, Jane Sanders revealed that she and her husband either lack an understanding of the historic reasons it is crucial that presidential candidates release many years of complete tax returns, that they lack a broad regard for integrity in government or that they have something to hide.

The latter concern grows from Jane Sanders’ own conduct. First, she falsely asserted that the couple had repeatedly released tax returns, an assertion with no basis in fact as my April 13 National Memo column showed. Then there was her role as the president of a small, financially struggling nonprofit college, where she reportedly funneled $500,000 to her daughter and may have made false statements on bank loan papers.

But even if the Sanders tax returns are clean as a whistle, we should care about the Sanders tax returns. That the one nearly complete return they have made available, for 2014, is pretty standard for a couple in their age and income brackets is entirely beside the point.

We should care because we want every single person running for president to make public their complete tax returns – including schedules, statements and worksheets – for many years so that we do not ever again have an unindicted felon in the White House or an admitted tax cheat just a heartbeat away.

If a white hat politician like Sanders will not follow a tradition dating to the corrupt, tax-cheating presidency of Richard Nixon and his first vice president, Spiro Agnew, it gives aid and comfort to those who want to hide their black hat conduct.

Sanders runs as Mr. Transparency, railing against what goes on beyond closed doors when Wall Streeters and CEOs meet with politicians. Yet the junior Senator from Vermont seems willfully blind to how his own conduct undermines his important arguments, which have received far too little attention in the mainstream news.

If Sanders will not walk his talk he cannot credibly challenge those whom he says, with good reason, are rigging the economy for their benefit. That loss of credibility is terrible because Sanders is raising issues that need our attention, about policies that must change or the wealthiest Americans will grow ever richer by diminishing the income and assets of the vast majority, as I have been documenting for more than 20 years.

But much worse than damage to Sanders’ credibility is the aid and comfort he gives to politicians, including Donald Trump, Ted Cruz and John Kasich who have released nothing (Trump) or only summaries (Cruz and Kasich). Cruz and Kasich are both rich thanks to Wall Street. Heidi Cruz is a Goldman Sachs-er and Kasich made a fortune fast at Lehman Brothers, the overleveraged firm whose collapse set in motion the Great Recession.

The only one of the Final 5 who has fully released is Hillary Clinton. Her and Bill’s complete tax returns to 1992 are posted at taxhistory.org as are many other partial and complete tax returns dating back to the Franklin D. Roosevelt administrations.

We really need to see the full tax returns of those three before any one of them is nominated by their party, but Sanders is making it easy for them to say no to disclosure.

Think ahead to the elections of 2020, 2024 and beyond, especially if the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision stands, enabling the wealthiest Americans to pour unlimited sums into elections. Some of that money will be to persuade. But as presidents including John Adams and James Madison warned, the business aristocrats will also trick people when it is in their interests to do so – and with Citizens United they can do so with abandon.

Plenty of people who want to exercise power over us from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue will want to keep their tax returns out of public record now and for as long as the United States of America endures. Many of them who have something to hide will cite Sanders as their model. Some because their tax returns will show they paid little or no income tax for many years (Romney in 2012, Trump in 2016). Others may have taken aggressive positions that raise questions about their character and conduct. Still others may have unreported income, which we might learn if they disclose fully for many years and disgruntled business associates, mistresses or others come forth with cancelled checks, financial statements and other proofs.

What does it tell us that Sanders and his wife, who knew full well a year ago that they would be asked for their complete tax returns at least since 2007, have played a game of “hide the documents”? What does it tell us that Jane Sanders made an unconditional promise on Mark Halperin’s Bloomberg television program and now dishonors her word? What does it tell us that a man who rightfully demands transparency from others will not hold himself to the same standards?

And if there is something the Sanders need to hide – and I sure hope not — we need to know that, too. Why? Because even if Sanders fails to get the Democratic Party nomination for president, we don’t want crooks in the Senate any more than in the Oval Office.

 

By: David Cay Johnston, The National Memo, April 27, 2016

April 28, 2016 Posted by | Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton, Presidential Candidates, Tax Returns | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Inside Donald Trump’s Secret Policy Shop”: Yet Another Reinvention To Transform From Entertainer To Candidate

In the fall of 2015, Donald Trump had an early attempt at reinvention, releasing a series of tax and veterans administration proposals with the intention of adding some policy substance to the businessman’s rhetoric.

It was one of Trump’s first attempts to transition from entertainer to candidate—a common narrative that has failed to last more than a day or two. In fact, there have been so many reinventions—on so many topics—that it’s hard to know what version of Trump we’re on.

But he has established a pattern: as much as he derides the Washington establishment, if he sees that a reinvention is needed, he’ll find an insider to help him do it. This was the case with the recent hires of longtime D.C. lobbyist Paul Manafort and former Republican National Committee political director Rick Wiley.

The veterans and tax plan were no different.

Initially, it was a mystery who wrote the plans that Trump had put out—the only hint was an $82,000 charge for in policy consulting work listed in Trump’s campaign filings with the Federal Election Commission under the name ‘JBC Research, LLC,’—payments which started in the fall and ended in December 2015.

The author, it turns out, is one of the best-known policy and opposition researchers in D.C.

The company has not been associated with any other federal campaigns, and there is nothing specific about it online. The only indication of who JBC Research might be affiliated with was the address listed on the Trump campaign’s filing: the eighth floor of a building just south of Dupont Circle in Washington, D.C.

If you go to the front desk and asks for JBC Research, you’ll be directed to the offices for Delve, a recently-formed opposition research firm founded by GOP operative Jeff Berkowitz, a veteran of the Republican National Committee, the State Department and the George W. Bush White House—not exactly the first person you’d expect to be involved in the Trump campaign.

Berkowitz, according to his LinkedIn page, specializes in “competitive intelligence and opposition research for companies, campaigns and causes.” He worked on a presidential campaign for Rudy Giuliani, who is supporting Trump. He is a longtime activist for conservative and Republican causes stretching back to the 1990s.

But nowhere online or in his LinkedIn page is ‘JBC Research’ listed.

JBC Research is an entity separate from Delve that focuses only on policy work, Berkowitz told The Daily Beast, and JBC Research did not do any opposition research for the Trump campaign.

“Last summer, a mutual associate familiar with our policy analysis capabilities asked us to assist in developing policy papers connecting the campaign’s vision with tried and true conservative policy proposals on tax reform, economic growth, and support for our veterans,” Berkowitz said. “We’re happy to have assisted in developing these specific proposals, as we have done for any number of center-right campaigns and clients.”

Their work for the Trump campaign finished in October, with payments through December 2015—and no further work was done or requested, Berkowitz said.

This week Trump is trying yet another reinvention, with a series of speeches intended to demonstrate his intellectual fitness for office, starting with a foreign policy talk Wednesday. That’s an attempt to reboot after he announced a roster of foreign policy advisers in March who were mostly unknown in national security circles—including one who listed the questionable credential of participating in a model United National conference on his LinkedIn page.

Odds are that he’ll have paid for, and will do his best Wednesday to sound like, the Beltway experts he so often likes to bash—at least when he’s not paying to tap their ideas.

 

By: Tim Mak, The Daily Beast, April 27, 2016

April 28, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Foreign Policy, National Security | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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