Ex-CIA director Porter Goss, former House majority leader Tom DeLay and three other former Republican congressmen are among those who still support disgraced former U.S. House speaker J. Dennis Hastert — at least enough to write a federal judge on his behalf.
The men were among 41 people to write U.S. District Judge Thomas Durkin as he prepares to sentence Hastert next week in a sordid criminal case that brought to light allegations that Hastert sexually abused teenagers while working as a high school teacher and wrestling coach decades ago. None of the writers delved into those accusations, instead focusing on the good that Hastert had accomplished in his life.
“Perhaps, the Speakers greatest gift to the House was trust,” Goss wrote in his letter. “My belief is that Members found him very approachable and took him at his word.”
Goss is a former Republican congressman from Florida who served as CIA director under George W. Bush. DeLay is a Texas Republican who worked alongside Hastert in the House leadership and who himself was accused in a criminal case of influencing state elections with corporate money — although his conviction was ultimately tossed. The three other former congressman writing letters on Hastert’s behalf were John T. Doolittle (R-Calif.), David Dreier (R-Calif.) and Thomas W. Ewing (R-Ill.).
Hastert, 74, pleaded guilty last year to withdrawing money in amounts meant to dodge federal reporting requirements — itself a crime that prosecutors have since said belied something more sinister. By their telling, Hastert was withdrawing the money to pay off a man he had abused as a teenager. And after FBI agents began investigating the case, they found four other men — all affiliated with the wrestling team that Hastert once coached as a high school teacher in Yorkville, Ill. — who had leveled similar allegations of abuse.
Hastert is scheduled to be sentenced in the case on Wednesday. His attorneys submitted the letters to the U.S. Probation Office in hopes of influencing its recommendation on the penalty he should face, but Durkin said he would not consider them unless they were filed publicly. The attorneys made 41 of them public late Friday and wrote in a filing that those represented the people who were okay with making their sentiments public.
Based on the letters, it would seem that Hastert enjoys broad support from his family and many of those he taught and coached or those who worked with him. Jean Hastert, his wife of 43 years, wrote she had “never known a more honorable and devoted man.”
“If one of his students or wrestlers ever needed anything of him, he would be there for them, and he was never happier than when he could watch someone he helped succeed,” she wrote.
Three retired Capitol Police officers who worked on Hastert’s security detail and a retired sheriff of Kendall County, Ill., wrote about their respect for him.
“Wherever he traveled in this country, he would never leave an event without personally thanking each law enforcement person who helped support the Capitol Police, wrote John DeWolfe, who worked as the agent-in-charge of the speaker of the House. “This is why I was so surprised to learn that he had been charged with lying to the FBI, it’s not the Denny I knew. I cannot comment on the specific charges, all I ask is when sentencing Speaker Hastert you take into account all the good he has done for his community and for his country.”
Prosecutors have painted a different portrait of Hastert, arguing that he rose to the highest levels of American politics, confident his dark secrets would never emerge, while his victims struggled. As part of an agreement with defense attorneys, they recommended a sentence between zero and six months in prison. Hastert is seeking only probation. Durkin could go as high as five years.