The Scandal That Ended Dennis Hastert's Control Of The House

05/28/2015 10:21 pm ET | Updated May 29, 2015

A federal grand jury in Chicago on Thursday indicted former House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) on charges of bank fraud and lying to the FBI. He also was accused of paying an unknown person $3.5 million in hush money to keep “prior misconduct” a secret.

After leaving the House, Hastert joined the Washington lobbying firm Dickstein Shapiro as a senior adviser. The firm confirmed late Thursday, after removing Hastert's biography from its website, that he had resigned.

Hastert was the longest-serving Republican House speaker in history when he retired after the 2006 elections. That year, he and other Republicans were embroiled in a major congressional scandal. Then-Rep. Mark Foley (R-Fla.) resigned in September 2006 after it was revealed he sent sexually explicit instant messages and emails to male congressional pages.

The Republican leadership’s handling of the scandal, with Hastert at the helm, played a key role in that year’s midterm elections, when the GOP sustained a major shellacking and was forced to hand over control of the House to Democrats, after dominating it since 1994.

To be sure, the GOP was also dogged by an unpopular president waging a deeply controversial war. But Hastert and other GOP congressional leaders were implicated in the Foley scandal when it was revealed that they knew about the emails in late 2005, months before the scandal made headlines in September 2006. Additionally, they allowed Foley to serve as chair of a congressional caucus on missing and exploited children, right up until he resigned from Congress. Foley had also been a major proponent of anti-gay legislation.

Hastert’s office initially claimed that he first heard about the scandal when former congressional pages leaked the emails to ABC News and The Washington Post, breaking the story wide open. Shortly after that, he backtracked, releasing a statement admitting that he had known about Foley’s inappropriate behavior since that spring and that several congressional leaders had alerted him and his staff to the emails.

The revelations pointed to a potential cover-up. Subsequent reporting found that Republican top brass warned Foley of the consequences of his behavior and tried to intervene in the months leading up to his resignation.

It began with Rep. Rodney Alexander (R-La.), who learned of the emails because Foley had been corresponding with one of Alexander’s pages. Alexander reported the correspondence to Rep. Thomas Reynolds (R-N.Y.), chair of the National Republican Congressional Committee, as well as then-House Majority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio). They quickly informed Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.), who oversaw the House page program. Shimkus confronted Foley and ordered him to stop all communication with the pages.

Boehner and Reynolds then warned several of Hastert’s aides, including Hastert’s floor assistant, deputy chief of staff, and in-house counsel. Both congressmen also claimed they spoke directly to Hastert about the situation, with Boehner saying that Hastert responded that it “had been taken care of.” Hastert denied the conversations.

A House Ethics Committee investigation ultimately concluded that Hastert was "willfully ignorant" in handling the revelations, and the Foley scandal cast a dark cloud over his final days in office.

CORRECTION: This post has been updated to reflect Hastert was the longest-serving Republican House speaker in history when he retired, not the longest-serving House speaker.

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