Ruth Marcus is the Latest “Liberal” Columnist to Defend Dennis Hastert

Looking at my archives, I realize that I’ve written about Ruth Marcus more often than I thought. It has never been flattering.

Typically, I say things like “If Ruth Marcus suddenly sounds like Jane Hamsher, maybe both of them are wankers” or “Ruth Marcus is concern-trolling again” or, maybe, “I understand what Ruth Marcus is saying, but you should never lament the fall of a sh*t-weasel like Eric Cantor.”

Once, when it was completely appropriate, I opted for the simple “Ruth Marcus is such a wanker.”

More recently, I wrote about how Sally Quinn and Ruth Marcus tag-teamed Huma Abedin, and not in an erotic way.

So, let’s just say that I’m not surprised to open up my Washington Post this morning and discover that Ruth Marcus has joined her cocktail weenie-eating cohort Bill Press in questioning the prosecutorial zeal of the United States attorney for the Northern District of Illinois.

You see, for those who flock around the carved ham at Sally Quinn’s Georgetown banquet table, there can be nothing quite so unsettling as seeing a formerly respectable Man of the Beltway brought up on charges. In the past, we’ve seen arguments from Richard Cohen that the crimes of people like Scooter Libby are not “an entirely trivial matter since government officials should not lie to grand juries, but neither should they be called to account for practicing the dark art of politics.” This came after he celebrated the Christmas Eve pardoning of the Iran-Contra Six.

Cap [Casper Weinberger], my Safeway buddy, walks, and that’s all right with me. As for the other five, they are not crooks in the conventional sense but Cold Warriors who, confident in the justice of their cause, were contemptuous of Congress. Because they thought they were right, they did not think they had to be accountable. This is the damage the Cold War did to our democracy…

But [Bush] is wrong in asserting that a mere difference of opinion constituted the charges against the pardoned six. They were accused of lying to Congress. In a political context, that might not warrant jail time, but it’s something short of noble.

Lying to Grand Juries, lying to Congress, lying to the FBI…these things might not warrant jail time so long as they are done in a political context.

That’s problematic enough, but Ms. Marcus turns that argument on its head this morning by arguing much like Bill Press did yesterday that Dennis Hastert is being persecuted precisely because his crime wasn’t political.

Hastert did, it seems, a terrible thing. He is, or was, paying for it — literally. He shelled out $1.7 million “to compensate for and conceal his prior misconduct,” the indictment says. He is at once alleged perpetrator and victim of a shake-down scheme; his alleged victim is both prey and blackmailer.

Yes, but he’s also a former speaker of the House, two heartbeats away from the presidency. If this sordid scheme arose when Hastert were in office, not lobbying away, I might feel differently.

Now, though, I keep returning to the question: What, precisely, is the federal government’s interest — the public interest — at this point in prosecution and humiliation?

There are a lot of quite loathsome ideas packed into a small area here. First, there’s the idea that Hastert may have done a terrible thing but he’s already paid enough for it through the cash payments he made to his victim. Then there’s the diminishment of blame by comparing Hastert’s sexual immorality to the morality of the person he molested. Then there’s the explicit idea that anyone who was once two heartbeats away from the presidency shouldn’t be humiliated. Finally, there’s the sentiment that things might look worse if Hastert had done this bank fraud and lying to the Feds in a political context.

The takeaway is that Beltway insiders shouldn’t be charged with lying to Congress or Grand Juries or the FBI if they did it for political reasons and they shouldn’t be charged if they did it for personal and private professional reasons.

When, then, should they be prosecuted for lying?

Remarkably, in this column, Marcus couples her concerns about the Hastert prosecution with qualms about charges against ridiculously corrupt members of the international governing body of soccer, FIFA. Even though Marcus doesn’t see international soccer as something that concerns most Americans “who aren’t rabid soccer fans” anyway, she still feels compelled to stick up for these elites.

For different reasons, I find both indictments unsettling — not necessarily wrong, but worth thinking through whether they ought to have been brought.

But what really upsets her is this Hastert thing:

Lying is bad. Lying to FBI agents is even worse.

But, really, wouldn’t that have been your first instinct, too?

I want Ruth Marcus to go into court and argue that her client, a young black man from Baltimore facing charges of lying to investigators about his role in a drug distribution ring, was only following his “first instinct” to lie to investigators and should be let go with no punishment more severe than a stern warning. Then I want her to devote a column to the issue of prosecutorial discretion and the Drug War.

Somehow, for Marcus and her Sally Quinn-buffet colleagues, it’s more acceptable when a person who was two heartbeats away from the presidency lies to try to cover his ass than when an impoverished citizen of our inner cities attempts the same thing.

This is why I continue to mock these supposed liberals relentlessly.

[Cross-posted at Progress Pond]

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly and the main blogger at Booman Tribune.