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Noah Feldman

Why Are Prosecutors Keeping Hastert's Secret?

Federal indictment invites us to read between the lines.
So much secrecy.

So much secrecy.

Photographer: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Dennis Hastert has a secret -- one he was willing to pay $3.5 million to keep quiet, and which the U.S. government is also now hiding. Federal prosecutors have indicted Hastert on charges of structuring cash withdrawals to avoid bank reporting and then lying to them about it. Yet even as the indictment paints an implicit picture of blackmail, the government has apparently agreed with Hastert’s lawyers to suppress whatever was so embarrassing that Hastert was willing to break the law to hush it up.

There's something very worrisome about the government secrecy here -- particularly in conjunction with the criminal prosecution on the morally mild charge of withdrawal structuring. I’d sum up the secrecy problem this way: Either Hastert did something terrible, in which case the government shouldn't be suppressing it, or Hastert was being unjustifiably blackmailed, in which case the government shouldn't be prosecuting him for breaking the withdrawal laws to avoid ruin.