The Hastert case's judicial conflict of interest

The former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, Dennis HastertJohn (Dennis) Dennis HastertFeehery: A surprising Republican wave election could be looming Feehery: How Trump wins Feehery: The working-class party MORE (R-Ill.), is to be arraigned this coming Tuesday, June 9. He is accused of a variety of charges, from lying to the FBI to various financial transactions that are a violation of federal law. These charges have to do with paying $3.5 million to compensate for and conceal prior misconduct, which is alleged to be sexual molestation.

Much has been written about Hastert's political career. Most of the stories relate to his being elected Speaker because he was "squeaky clean" and had no "skeletons in his closet." The Republican Party at that time had a serious image problem.


Newt GingrichNewton (Newt) Leroy GingrichMORE (R-Ga.) had to leave the Speakership in 1998 because he had a host of embarrassing and scandalous revelations. Bob Livingston (R-La.) had to resign the post when he admitted to extramarital affairs. The next in line, Tom DeLay (R-Texas), was so toxic that he couldn't possibly be Speaker. So because of all this, Hastert, the supposed mild-mannered teddy bear kind of guy, was elevated. He soon became known as the "Accidental Speaker."

Hastert was able to climb the political ladder first and foremost because he was an ally and henchman for DeLay. True, his method and style were different, but no one should forget that his rise was exclusively because he was a protégé of Delay. All the stories I have read and heard seem to leave out an essential feature of Hastert's persona that needs to be emphasized and highlighted.

I had one encounter with him and I believe this experience speaks volumes about the real Denny Hastert. One very early morning, about 7:30 a.m., I was up on Capitol Hill. At the time, I was the political analyst and commentator for WTOP (the all-news radio station in Washington).

I had written a series of commentaries advocating that the District of Columbia should have representation in Statuary Hall (each of the 50 states have at least one statue). I saw Hastert walking toward me, surrounded by a cadre of aides and security personnel. I decided that this was the perfect time and opportunity to ask the Speaker what he thought of the idea. When I described the situation, he was simultaneously startled and stunned. He seemed disturbed that I would even bring up the subject. He paused and with a distinctly dismissive tone said "then the others will want one."

The "others." What a curious word to use. The "others" refer to Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, Guam, America Samoa and the Northern Mariana Islands. These "others" are all Americans with full American citizenship rights. Every one of these places has men and women who have fought and died in our wars. The choice of the word "others" is, upon reflection, not just curious, but intentionally derogatory. It was Hastert's way of saying that the U.S. citizens who lived in those locations were of another status; a status that was alien and inferior.

He did not say, "they are not residents of a state." That, too, should never be used to disqualify or exclude U.S. citizens. But at the very least, it would comply with the verbiage of the law that governed the placing of statues in the Capitol building. (D.C. does now have a statue, that of Frederick Douglass.)

Hastert's true point of view, I believe, was blurted out. His world is not one that includes, but rather excludes. After this brief exchange with Hastert, I came to realize that this individual was not worthy of the title or position of Speaker.

One additional matter must be covered. The federal judge who will preside at the arraignment on Tuesday and might very well preside over a future trial is Thomas M. Durkin.

Durkin, when he was a lawyer in private practice, twice gave Hastert campaign contributions. In 2002, he gave $500 and in 2004, he gave $1,000. In addition, Hastert's son, Ethan, is a partner in the same law firm, Mayer Brown, where Durkin was a partner. Mayer Brown, the firm in question, will not provide the dates of their respective periods of employment. Beyond these two major facts, Durkin's brother, Jim Durkin, is presently a member of the Illinois state legislature. Since August 2013, he has been the Republican minority leader.

All of these factors, in my opinion, call for Judge Durkin to immediately recuse himself from this case. He has no business having anything to do with this case at any stage. U.S. Sens. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) and Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinMcConnell focuses on confirming judicial nominees with COVID-19 talks stalled Senate Republicans signal openness to working with Biden Top GOP senator calls for Biden to release list of possible Supreme Court picks MORE (D-Ill.), who forwarded Durkin's name for consideration to the president, should jointly call for Durkin's recusal.

Kirk, who is up for reelection in 2016, should take the lead on this matter. If he doesn't, I would not be surprised to see his opponent, Rep. Tammy DuckworthLadda (Tammy) Tammy DuckworthMcConnell focuses on confirming judicial nominees with COVID-19 talks stalled Biden courts veterans amid fallout from Trump military controversies John Fogerty: 'Confounding' that Trump campaign played 'Fortunate Son' at rally MORE (D-Ill.), make Kirk's silence a campaign issue. How can there be a more clear case of conflict of interest?

Another judge, randomly selected, should and must preside over the Hastert case. The U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, Zachary Fardon, should call for Durkin's recusal if Durkin does not do it voluntarily. The Hastert case is too important to be tainted in any way by political favoritism. Durkin should do what is expected of a federal judge; fairness and justice demand nothing less.

One last thought, there very well might be a plea bargain before Tuesday's scheduled arraignment, which would mean that Durkin would be, at this time, the sentencing judge. That should not be allowed to occur.

Plotkin is a political analyst, a contributor to the BBC on American politics and a columnist for The Georgetowner.