Allegations of sexual misconduct against former House Speaker Dennis Hastert are bringing some controversial moments from his time in public service under renewed scrutiny, especially a scandal involving another GOP congressman’s relationships with young congressional pages.
Florida Republican Rep. Mark Foley issued an apology and resigned from Congress in 2006 after leaked emails revealed inappropriate communications with pages, or interns, many of whom are of high school age, who work on the House floor. A resulting ethics investigation by the House of Representatives concluded that the Speaker was told about the emails but that there was “no evidence that the Speaker took any action” to address the concerns being raised.
Hastert was one of eight members of Congress asked to testify to the committee and throughout the report, he denied ever knowing about the emails until Foley announced his resignation in the fall of 2006.
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Testifying before the committee, both Ohio Republican Rep. John Boehner, who was majority leader at the time, and New York Republican Rep. Thomas Reynolds, said they told Hastert about Foley’s contact with House pages, but Hastert denied having conversations with Boehner or Reynolds about Foley.
The report says that Boehner testified that “within half an hour” after he was told about Foley by a fellow member of Congress, Florida Republican Rep. Rodney Alexander, “he believes that he briefed Speaker Hastert on the matter on the House floor, and that Speaker Hastert said the matter 'has been taken care of.'"
But Hastert said he doesn’t remember that conversation. “What I’m saying is I don’t remember having that conversation with Boehner on the House floor; and probably the House floor would not be the place to have that conversation, in my point of view,” the report says Hastert said.
Flashback: Hastert in the HouseMay 29, 201502:05
Reynolds, who was also head of the National Republican Congressional Committee, the campaign arm of House Republicans at the time, said he also spoke to Hastert about Foley. He testified that he told Hastert that he heard from Alexander that a page “received some overly friendly emails from Mark Foley.”
Hastert told the committee that he doesn’t remember that conversation either.
Hastert was recently indicted over allegations that he withdrew large sums of money in ways to avoid federal reporting requirements and lied about the withdrawals to the FBI. Federal law enforcement officials told NBC News that the money was used to cover up allegation of sexual misconduct during his time as a high school teacher.
And on Friday, the sister of a now-deceased Illinois man identified him as an alleged victim of sexual abuse at the hands of Hastert, according to reports. Steve Reinboldt was abused thoughout his high school years while serving as the equipment manager of the wrestling team coached by Hastert in Yorkville, Illinois, Jolene Burdge told ABC News and The Associated Press. NBC News has not independently confirmed Burdge's allegation.
Former Rep. Barney Frank, an openly gay member of Congress, said on MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell Reports that Hastert’s leadership in Congress is filled with hypocrisy if these allegations are true.
“It's also though, frankly, to me, a reminder of the hypocrisy, especially upon my Republican colleagues,” Frank said. “Dennis Hastert became speaker to preside over the impeachment of Bill Clinton who was being attacked because he had had sex with an intern, of age, with a much less coercive relationship than the teacher-student. “
Hastert won the speakership in 1998 amid sexual scandal when Louisiana Rep. Bob Livingston, a popular Republican next in line for the speakership, abruptly announced that he would not run for speaker and that he would resign because he engaged in extramarital affairs. Livingston’s unexpected announcement from the House floor, ironically, came as the House was about to vote on the impeachment of Bill Clinton for having an affair with a young White House aide.
Hastert quickly secured the votes to replace Livingston.