Stephen Tryon: Explaining the behavior of some members of Congress

(Andrew Link | The Rochester Post-Bulletin via AP) In this June 22, 2016, photo, former Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert, right, reports to the Federal Medical Center in Rochester, Minn., to begin serving a sentence in a hush money case.

Nine years ago the longest-serving Republican speaker of the House, Dennis Hastert, was being blackmailed.

A federal judge labelled Hastert a “serial child molester” during his sentencing hearing in 2015. In April 2016, Hastert admitted in court to sexually abusing several boys while he worked as a high school wrestling coach in the 1960s and 1970s. Hastert, who served as speaker of the House from 1999 to 2007, paid $1.7 million to one of his victims, and violated federal law while doing so, in order to keep his dirty little secret.

Hastert eventually served time in federal prison for illegally structuring bank withdrawals to avoid reporting requirements and lying to federal investigators. He wasn’t charged for his sex crimes because of the statute of limitations. But Hastert is the highest ranking elected official in U.S. history to have served a prison sentence.

Among the many disturbing facts about Hastert is that one of the most powerful elected officials in the United States government was blackmailed within a few years of leaving Congress for heinous behavior in his past.

When I look at the inexplicable behavior of some of the senior Republican leaders in Congress today, from Mitch McConnell to Lindsay Graham to Devin Nunes to Kevin McCarthy to Jim Jordan, I have to wonder if one or more of them are being blackmailed. The Russian government has motive, desire and capability to execute this type of extortion against senior elected American officials.

The very first finding listed on page 4, Volume 2 of the Select Committee on Intelligence report, released in July, 2019, states: “The Committee found, that [Russian operatives associated with the Internet Research Agency (IRA)] sought to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election by harming Hillary Clinton’s chances of success and supporting Donald Trump at the direction of the Kremlin.”

To arrive at its findings, the committee used two different non-governmental, independent organizations to assess Russia’s actions. Even Republican senators agree with the findings of this report. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., was quoted in the Dec. 3 issue of The Hill as stating “he’s ‘1,000 percent confident’ Russia was responsible for hacking the Democratic National Committee (DNC) as part of an effort to interfere in the 2016 election, dismissing the theory that Ukraine played a role in the breach.”

With regard to Russia’s crimes, the select committee report echoes the findings of the January 2017 Intelligence Community Assessment, as well as the March 2019 report by the Republican special counsel Robert Mueller.

Given the unanimous consensus of the intelligence community and the bipartisan Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, not to mention the convictions resulting from the investigation led by Mueller, it is incredible that there are still Republican members of Congress supporting the narrative produced by Russian intelligence — that Russia did not interfere in the 2016 election.

It is incredible that members of Congress are supporting the efforts of the administration to enlist foreign support for this discredited narrative, and to obstruct investigation of those illegal administration efforts. It is absolutely astonishing that members of Congress, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, are blocking efforts to strengthen U.S. defenses against foreign interference in the 2020 presidential election and to compel testimony by executive branch officials in the course of constitutionally valid impeachment proceedings.

Surely, partisanship can’t explain such dereliction of duty. In my view, we must consider the possibility that one or more key members of Congress are being blackmailed by Russia. Remember Dennis Hastert — he was blackmailed just a few years ago, and by someone without the power and reach of the Russian government.

Stephen Tryon

Stephen Tryon, Salt Lake City, is a retired soldier, former Senate fellow, businessman, author and was the Democratic candidate in Utah’s 3rd Congressional District in 2016.