GWEN IFILL: A former House speaker indicted, a major city police department under scrutiny, and the 2016 presidential race expands yet again, tonight on Washington Week.
Three-and-a-half million dollars allegedly devoted to blackmail ensnares a former speaker of the House. What will become of Dennis Hastert?
MARCHERS: (From video.) We can’t wait. We can’t wait. We can’t wait.
MS. IFILL: And in Cleveland, will a Justice Department settlement provide a blueprint for other cities to reduce excessive force by police?
CLEVELAND MAYOR FRANK JACKSON (D): (From video.) Today, May 26th, 2015, marks a new way of policing in the city of Cleveland.
MS. IFILL: Plus, on the campaign trail, if running for president doesn’t work once try, try again.
FORMER SENATOR RICK SANTORUM (R-PA): (From video.) I just looked at the field, good people – a lot of really good people, but I felt we offered something different.
MS. IFILL: Or, try for the first time.
FORMER NEW YORK GOVERNOR GEORGE PATAKI (R): (From video.) We are the party of the middle class, unless by middle class they mean someone who left the White House dead broke and 10 years later had a $100 million. (Laughter, applause.)
MS. IFILL: As Democrats prepare to deny Hillary Clinton an unimpeded march to the nomination.
SENATOR BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT): (From video.) Well, I think it’s hard not to acknowledge that Hillary Clinton is part of the establishment. I mean, that’s hard not to acknowledge.
MS. IFILL: Covering the week, John Harwood, chief Washington correspondent for CNBC; Carrie Johnson, justice correspondent for NPR; and John Dickerson, political director for CBS News.
ANNOUNCER: Award-winning reporting and analysis. Covering history as it happens. Live from our nation’s capital, this is Washington Week with Gwen Ifill. Once again, live from Washington, moderator Gwen Ifill.
MS. IFILL: Good evening. The one thing we can tell you for sure on the curious case of Dennis Hastert is that almost no one saw it coming. He was the guy without any skeletons in his closet, the man who rescued his party from scandal, the lawmaker no one could say a bad thing about. That ended with yesterday’s detailed, and yet mysterious, indictment, alleging that he has been systematically making payoffs to an undisclosed person, apparently hush money because of some previously undisclosed behavior.
What do and don’t we know about all of this tonight, John?
JOHN HARWOOD: What we found out today, Gwen, was that law enforcement officials began telling reporters that the individual in question was a male who had been a student at Yorkville High School and that the conduct that he had been soliciting money to keep quiet from former Speaker Hastert was sexual misconduct. We don’t know any more detail than that.
And I’ve got to say, as you indicated in your introduction, the one word you heard across the board from everybody in Washington was “sad.” Everybody liked Dennis Hastert. He was a calming force in the House. He was the prototypical nice guy, made it into Congress. Not especially articulate, not especially dashing, you know, like some figures in politics, but somebody who was a reassuring figure. And everyone that I have talked to is shocked by this. And that’s what John Boehner said. It’s what Nancy Pelosi said this afternoon.
MS. IFILL: Dennis Hastert became speaker of the House in the wake of scandal. And he was – they turned to him – I was covering Capitol Hill at the time – because he was the guy they knew would have no skeletons in his closet. And for the record, during his time in public life, he didn’t have any.
MR. HARWOOD: And in fact, the prosecutors are saying that none of the conduct – either the financial misconduct and the structuring of payments to avoid suspicion of regulators, or the misconduct that occurred with this individual – occurred during his period of public service. It was before when he was a teacher and then after when he became a lobbyist and began making a lot of money that this individual came to him and began soliciting money.
He was meting it out in amounts that drew the attention of the bank, drew the attention of regulators because federal law requires that transactions of more than $10,000 be reported. He then, according to the indictment, restructured those to avoid the reporting requirements. That, in itself, is a crime. And then when he was asked about it by the FBI, he indicated this was only for his own purposes. And they’ve changed him with lying there.
JOHN DICKERSON: So if he’s being caught for lying, what about the guy who was bribing him – or seeking these payments? What happens to him?
MR. HARWOOD: Well, you would think – in some circumstances similar to this you have extortion or blackmail charges being leveled against the person seeking the money. In this case, what prosecutors have said is that the – this arrangement appeared to be consensual between – that is, the financial arrangement – consensual between Hastert and the individual. Hastert was not strongly resisting and therefore they had agreed on this plan.
CARRIE JOHNSON: John, what happens next to Denny Hastert? And is he speaking out in defense of himself or his actions in any –
MR. HARWOOD: He’s not. His family members are. A nephew put out a statement tonight saying this wasn’t the Denny Hastert that I know. I think he’s innocent. I think this is trumped-up politics. Hastert has not been arrested. He’s not considered a flight risk by prosecutors.
MS. IFILL: He signed a $4,500 bail.
MR. HARWOOD: Right. And he will – there will be a court appearance where he will have to formally answer the charges. It is possible that this ends in a plea agreement of some kind, but we don’t yet know what that next chapter is going –
MS. IFILL: OK, so explain something. He is not being investigated for anything he – for any kind of public malfeasance that we’re aware of?
MR. HARWOOD: Not public corruption.
MS. IFILL: Not public corruption. He is spending his own money, presumably, to make these statements.
MR. HARWOOD: Mmm hmm.
MS. IFILL: So the only thing that he is being investigated about, so far as we know, is the way he structured those payments? If he had just written a check and not withdrawn it in chunks, none of this would have come up.
MR. HARWOOD: That’s right. It’s two things. It’s structuring the payments to avoid the federal requirements and lying to the FBI. He’s also not being charged with sexual abuse of another person. This conduct occurred before 1981, when he went into public life. It was back when he was a teacher and wrestling coach. The statute of limitations would have long since expired on that.
MR. DICKERSON: How does he have that much money? I mean, does – is this money – I mean, he was in the Congress, he was – when we covered him there was talk about he’d kind of go home to a kind of humble life. That’s one of the reasons people said it was so sad, is these stories of kind of a regular Joe kind of guy.
MR. HARWOOD: Well, he certainly has a regular Joe vibe about him. But he was also running the public policy practice of a major Washington law firm. And a lot of money – you can make a lot of money in that business. He had agreed to pay, according to the indictment, $3 ½ million. Of that, he had paid about half – 1.7 million (dollars). And if you’re talking about payments over the course of five years, for somebody who is a major lobbyist with that kind of resume that they can bring to the game, they can make an awful lot of money.
MS. IFILL: Do we know anything about the timing of this indictment? It seems an odd, interesting, out of the blue time to hear about this.
MR. HARWOOD: We don’t. And we don’t know whether this case is arising because of legal trouble that the individual in question, the person who is receiving the money from him – he may have gotten into legal trouble and therefore began telling this story as a way to get out of his own problems. So again, we haven’t heard from Hastert on the conduct – the underlying conduct itself. We haven’t heard him on the charges of lying and restructuring. And we simply don’t know the circumstances under which this investigation itself arose.
MS. IFILL: But the word “sad” does keep coming up.
MR. HARWOOD: That’s right.
MS. IFILL: Thank you, John.
Well, the Department of Justice had to be the busiest Cabinet department in town this week, with indictments and investigations ranging from Yorkville, Illinois to Zurich, Switzerland to Cleveland, Ohio. The settlement Justice reached in Cleveland, however, speaks directly to an open wound many American cities are still struggling with: how to help communities interact more effectively with the people they are sworn to protect. Cleveland Police Chief Calvin Williams.
CLEVELAND POLICE CHIEF CALVIN WILLIAMS: (From video.) What it – what it really comes down to is, you know, we have to – I have to as chief – make sure that that community policing philosophy is part of the DNA of the Cleveland Division of Police. And that’s what I intend to do.
MS. IFILL: Cleveland is only one of the cities that has come under federal scrutiny. What else is brewing out there, Carrie?
MS. JOHNSON: Since the Obama administration took office, they’ve done about two dozen investigations of police departments all over the country. Gwen, these are investigations by the Civil Rights Division at the Justice Department under authority Justice got under a 1994 law Congress passed after the brutal beating of Rodney King in Southern California. It allows the Justice Department to go in, send teams to look at whether police are engaging in unconstitutional actions – racially motivated traffic stops, for instance, use of excessive force and other misconduct. And under the tools Congress has granted the Justice Department, DOJ can come in, try to negotiate a court-enforceable settlement with these police departments, require them to get more training and to change the way that they use force. That’s exactly what has happened in Cleveland this week.
And this deal follows a scathing report Justice put out only five months ago about Cleveland finding not only did officers excessively unholster their weapons and shoot people, but they were using their service revolvers and pistols to beat people over the head – even people who had already been handcuffed and were not presenting a threat. This problem extended to the use of Tasers and pepper sprays, and extended to people who were just mouthing off to cops, not doing anything wrong.
MS. IFILL: Was there any coincidence that this announcement of the settlement came just a couple days – maybe the day after – certainly the weekend – last weekend we heard about the verdict in the Brelo case, where 137 bullets were fired into a windshield and two unarmed black people were killed, and then all of a sudden Monday or Tuesday we hear this announcement?
MS. JOHNSON: Both Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson and DOJ officials were asked about the rather curious timing of this announcement. They didn’t reject it out of hand, and just reading between the lines here, clearly they were trying to make sure that Cleveland did not remain on edge. They wanted to demonstrate that the city understood there was a problem and the federal Justice Department understood there was a problem and that they were taking steps to make changes.
Those steps will include more reporting requirements. Every time police unholster their weapons they’re going to have to report that and fill out a form. They’re supposed to promise not to use excessive force and actually give suspects the right to surrender peacefully before whipping out a gun or a pistol or a Taser.
MR. HARWOOD: Carrie, is there reason to think that because of the rising attention to police-community issues that we’ve seen since Ferguson, Baltimore, whole range of cases – Tamir Rice in Cleveland – that the administration is in a more comprehensive way using the tools that you said that Congress has granted to try, before the president leaves office, to touch as many local police departments as possible? Or is this just a case-by-case thing as it comes up?
MS. JOHNSON: So what’s going on here, John, is that there are 18,000 police agencies all over the country. Some are large departments, like Cleveland and New York and L.A., and some may have 10 officers. The new U.S. attorney general, Loretta Lynch, has said that we can’t be everywhere at the Justice Department. We can’t investigate all of these police departments.
What we can do is negotiate these kinds of settlements, as they did in Cleveland this week, and try to demonstrate and publicize those as a model for best practices for others around the country to follow, to the extent they have the resources and the will. And if they don’t have the resources and they don’t have the will, John, then there’s a hammer hanging over their heads moving forward.
MR. DICKERSON: What happens with the Tamir Rice case? This is another one sitting out there in Cleveland. How does that – does this lower the possible boil in terms of the tensions created by that case?
MS. IFILL: The 12-year old boy who was playing with an air gun and was shot.
MS. JOHNSON: Tamir Rice, shot and killed late last year. The local investigation is ongoing there and the federal government is looking over the shoulder of the local police and DAs on that. There’s also an outstanding investigation of a case of a mentally ill woman who was in handcuffs and died in Cleveland police custody – both of those incidents still under review. It’s possible that officers in those cases could still face charges, and if they don’t that the Justice Department will come in and possible charge and investigate those officers too.
MS. IFILL: One of the things I found most interesting about this settlement is – aside from the fact that suddenly they’re putting civilians in charge of internal police investigations – it’s also the notion that they said: We are in favor of community policing. We are in favor of de-escalating situations. And I wonder why all that wasn’t happening already. It seems to me community policing – whatever that means anymore – has been widespread and discussed every – in every community in America. Yet, this was part of the conclusion, part of the deal?
MS. JOHNSON: So what community policing is, at its core, Gwen, is getting out of your car and going into a community and knowing the names of people who live there, especially children. It’s not that hard to do. But when you have a mentality that you’re under siege, you don’t have enough resources, you feel as an officer at risk yourself, you might want to stay in your car. You want to be – the new idea is to be a guardian of – not a – not a warrior. And what the president’s Task Force on Policing has been arguing is that police need to rethink their role in the community. They are there to protect and serve, not to – not to abuse and over-police.
MS. IFILL: And the police unions, as far as we know, have embraced this so far?
MS. JOHNSON: Gwen, in fact Cleveland police officials this week raised some big doubts about the success of this consent decree. They say they don’t want officers overburdened with paperwork and they say this is going to be a really, really expensive process.
MS. IFILL: OK. Thanks.
Over the years, running for president has become a sport, what with all the horse races and photo finishes and all that. But at the heart of every campaign are the individuals themselves. Why do they run? And when there are more than a dozen others competing for the same turn at bat, how does one survive?
Well, you get onto debate stages, you try to steal the limelight from others and, most of all, you come up with a plan to be the last man or woman standing. Republican Rick Santorum, for example, says he’s different from all the others.
MR. SANTORUM: (From video.) We have experience that nobody has on national security. That’s something that’s critically important. And I think going up against a former secretary of state with a candidate with really no national experience is a really – it’s a – it’s a prescription for disaster for the Republican Party when national security issues are going to be very, very important.
MS. IFILL: And Democrat Bernie Sanders told John Harwood he is the Clinton – Hillary Clinton alternative.
SEN. SANDERS: (From video.) John, let me say this: I fully concede that I get into this race as a major underdog – no question about it. As I’ve said before though, don’t underestimate me. I think we’re going to do better than people think. And I think we got a shot at this thing.
MS. IFILL: OK, turn to the other John. Is it too soon in all of this to discern what the strategy is behind candidates like Rick Santorum and Bernie Sanders?
MR. DICKERSON: Well, I think the strategy is, you know, what Mom used to say: Anybody can be president. And all – the people who are running now and getting in both this week and next week are in that category. They are – Bernie Sanders is kind of – it’s a big long shot, as he just admitted.
Rick Santorum, though he came in second in the last – or won 11 contests, was considered second against Mitt Romney, has a much tougher field. And you heard him there trying to do what all these candidates are trying to do, which is design an election where they are the only solution to the problem. And so they all say, well, what the world needs –
MS. IFILL: They define the problem too.
MR. DICKERSON: Yes, they define the problem so that they are the inevitable solution. Why are so many of them running? Well, it’s – you can get covered now in a way you couldn’t before. There aren’t just three networks to kind of only cover the serious people. You can get picked up. You can run your own – your own advertisements on web pages.
A lot of them are – Bernie Sanders is a cause candidate. And so while he doesn’t have gobs of money – which is another reason Rick Santorum can run. If he has one person spending a lot of money on his super PAC, that can keep him alive, where the donations you used to have to cobble together might not keep him alive. But Bernie Sanders has people supporting him who really believe in him and who are willing to really go out there and work hard for him, sort of like what Ron Paul had going for him last time.
So the barriers to entry have lowered, and also there are those great historical stories that they all cling too – Jimmy Carter in ’76, Ronald Reagan in ’76 almost takes down an incumbent, you know, John McCain in 2000 in New Hampshire. So as long as there’s a narrative that they can kind of hook onto, they’ll stick around for the ride.
MR. HARWOOD: How much importance do you attach to the idea, which has gotten considerable discussion the last couple of cycles, that people run for president because the speech fees go up, the book contracts come. They’re seen as larger people on the American stage because they’re a former presidential –
MS. IFILL: Is that a little cynical, John? Is that a little cynical?
MR. HARWOOD: Well, it is. I’m not sure that all these people are doing it for that reason. I just have never seen so many people who it’s hard to envision a path to the finish line getting in.
MR. DICKERSON: There is no downside. So it used to be, if the party was picking the people, they would say, this isn’t your turn, and if you don’t wait your turn – if you try and go too fast too soon – we’re going to penalize you or we won’t try and think of you next time when it is your turn. So that structure has gone away.
The press has gone away which kind of used to make fun of a candidate who was a kind of Harold Stassen type, although – well, we won’t get into Stassen. But you know, so the media can’t make fun of you. And now, because of the narrowcasting you can do, Bernie Sanders ends up running and he’s a hero when he comes out of this because – and Howard Dean had that a little bit. The media made fun of him, but then he became the – you know, the progressive hero.
MS. IFILL: He had a cause.
MR. DICKERSON: He had a cause. And that’s certainly been the case on the Republican side.
MS. JOHNSON: John, but I’ve been hearing that they’re going to limit the number of candidate who can appear on the debate stage in terms of Republicans. We’re already passed that number. How does – how is that going to work?
MR. DICKERSON: That’s right. I mean, the number of Republican candidates is multiplying. There may be a new one just during this broadcast. (Laughter.) So they’ve limited it to 10. Fox News is just going to have 10. CNN’s going to have 10 and then a debate beforehand with the others, sort of a kids table to the adults table.
It’s interesting what the incentives will be here. I mean, so if you’re a candidate who’s worried about 11, first of all, do you complain about it? Because, as one Republican official was saying, if you complain now, it’s sort of like saying, well, in two months in August when they make this determination, I’m still going to be 11, which is sort of dooming yourself to a – to a rough spot. But does it change the incentives for the way these candidates behave so that – because the criteria is where you stand in the polls on basically early August to get in that – in that Fox debate. So are they going to act out and try and get themselves some coverage? Then the question is, if you act out, do people say, oh, that was cute, but you know, you’re not a serious candidate? How do you create a sustained kind of push that gets you into that top 10 –
MS. IFILL: That’s the Republican side. How about the Democratic side? You have – next week we’re seeing – in fact, on Saturday we’re going to see Martin O’Malley, the former governor of Maryland, step in. We’re going to see a couple more Republicans – Lindsey Graham and Rick Perry – and another Democrat, Lincoln Chafee from Rhode Island, get in. We saw George Pataki get in this week. When Hillary looks at this – Hillary Clinton, the presumed way-ahead front-runner according to all the polls – what does she do?
MR. DICKERSON: Well, right. Just remember, 85 percent in the most recent CBS poll said they could consider voting for Hillary Clinton. That’s a big number.
MS. IFILL: Yeah.
MR. DICKERSON: So the danger for Hillary Clinton with a Bernie Sanders or a Martin O’Malley is not that they’re going to beat hear, necessarily. It’s that they put enough pressure on her on one of these issues that it causes her to stumble in a way that lasts and causes pain for the general election.
MS. IFILL: Once again, you’re just waiting for that one little opening and maybe you can get through, and that’s what we’re watching them all for.
Thank you all very much. We want to end a little early tonight because we have – it’s a Pledge Week night. But before we go, I’d like to send a word of salute to a colleague and fellow translator of the world of Washington and politics, the great Bob Schieffer. He retires this Sunday after 46 years at CBS News and nearly a quarter of a century as host of Face the Nation. Bob, we wish you and Pat the best. I suspect TCU will be seeing a lot more of you. We won’t say goodbye, just so long.
And stepping into those big shoes beginning next Sunday will be our own John Dickerson. We’re not saying goodbye to you either, but certainly good luck.
Thanks for watching, everybody. Stay online as we continue the conversation later tonight and all week long on the Washington Week Webcast Extra at PBS.org/WashingtonWeek. And keep track of daily developments every night with Judy Woodruff and me on the PBS NewsHour, and we’ll see you again right here next week on Washington Week. Good night.
And good luck, sir.