When former House Speaker Dennis Hastert appears in federal court next week, it will be to face charges that he improperly withdrew large amounts of cash from his bank account and lied to the FBI about it.
But to the political and legal worlds, the apparent downfall of the man who stood second in line to the presidency has become a sex scandal that has spread beyond the initial speculation – based upon the careful and deliberate wording of the indictment – that Mr. Hastert was using the money to pay for the silence of a man (at the time a high school student) who Hastert had sexually abused.
Now, allegations regarding a second victim are being made.
Meanwhile, questions are being raised about why Hastert as Speaker apparently did nothing in the face of reports that a fellow Republican in Congress had made improper sexual advances on underage male pages.
Charges that Hastert himself sexually abused a second high school boy during the time when Hastert was a teacher and wrestling coach at Yorkville High School near Chicago come from the alleged victim’s sister.
Jolene Burdge of Billings, Montana, told the Associated Press this week that her brother Stephen Reinboldt told her before he died of AIDS in 1995 that his first homosexual contact was with Hastert and that the relationship lasted through all of his high school years.
"He damaged Steve, I think, more than any of us will ever know," Ms. Burdge said Friday on ABC's "Good Morning America.”
Burdge was approached by the FBI to tell her story before the indictments against Hastert were announced – a story that has been corroborated by at least one source.
A friend of Stephen Reinboldt, who did not want to be named, told NBC News that years ago Reinboldt told him he had sexual contact with Hastert.
"I was hanging out at Steve's house in December 1974, I seem to recall we went for a drive and he told me that he was gay. He also said that his first sexual encounter was with Denny Hastert," the friend said.
Hastert and his lawyers have declined to comment on the charges or allegations.
Hastert last week was indicted by federal prosecutors for “structuring” his bank withdrawals to avoid a $10,000 limit (above which banks must report) and for lying about the withdrawals to the FBI.
The seven-page indictment also makes reference to an unnamed person (“Individual A”) to whom Hastert since 2010 had been making large cash payments, apparently in return for that person’s silence for past “misconduct.” By the time of the indictment, Hastert had paid “Individual A” $1.7 million – about half the $3.5 million promised as part of the arrangement.
Soon, multiple news sources were quoting unnamed law enforcement officials saying that “Individual A” is a male who had known Hastert for many years – back to when the former House Speaker was a high school teacher and wrestling coach. More specifically, the man known as “Individual A” was identified as a former student from Yorkville, Ill. who alleges that Hastert sexually abused him.
The indictment says that Hastert agreed to make the payments “in order to compensate for and conceal his prior misconduct against” the former student.
The allegations raise another issue about Hastert’s past, this one involving former US Rep. Mark Foley (R) of Florida, which led to a 2006 House Ethics Committee investigation that found Hastert and many others were "willfully ignorant" in responding to repeated warnings that Mr. Foley (who was forced to resign) had behaved improperly with young male pages and former pages.
"The fact that the speaker of the House did nothing when there were multiple attempts to intervene [with Foley] is in itself appalling, without any future allegations about Hastert's own past behavior," Norman Ornstein, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, told the Chicago Tribune.
"If you're getting warnings about potentially inappropriate conduct by a member of the House toward the pages, and you don't at minimum take that member aside and say, 'Stay the hell away from those pages,' and you do nothing – even not knowing at the time about Hastert's own issues – I find it just appalling," Mr. Ornstein said.
Could Hastert be charged with a sex offense?
Legal experts told the AP that Hastert is unlikely to face charges on any sexual abuse he may have committed in the 1960s or 1970s. When Hastert taught and coached in Yorkville, Illinois' statute of limitations for sexual abuse was three years. State legislators have since extended that period, but those changes are not retroactive.
There is no federal law for criminal sexual abuse that might apply, said Steve Greenberg, a Chicago-area criminal attorney not linked to the Hastert case.
Hastert was the longest-serving Republican Speaker of the House in history. Since resigning in 2007, he has become a wealthy Washington lobbyist.