The Fall of Dan Rostenkowski

Article excerpt

Burly and gruff as always, former Rep. Dan Rostenkowski stood in the rain Tuesday to bemoan the plea bargain he had just entered into. Once upon a time Rosty's huff and bluster struck fear into presidents and lawmakers and titans of industry. But now he's headed to jail and is inciting even less fear than pity. All that was left of the mighty Ways and Means Committee chairman out there on the rain-swept courthouse steps was a bitter man uselessly defending himself with the old everybody-else-did-it excuse. One can only hope that the sight was instructive to current lawmakers, because Rostenkowski betrayed nothing to suggest he has learned any humility or experienced any true remorse.

In some respects, Rosty had a point. The investigation into the House Bank and the House Post Office proved that even rudimentary ethics were honored mostly in the breach. But rampant criminality is no excuse for criminal acts (does drive-by shooting cease to be a prosecutable offense in neighborhoods where it is commonplace?). In any case, Rostenkowski was not just some journeyman member of Congress, he was arguably the most powerful man on Capitol Hill. With that power came a blinding arrogance that was finally Rosty's undoing.

One symptom of that arrogance was Rostenkowski's unwillingness to accept an earlier plea negotiation engineered by the nation's Defense-Lawyer-in-Chief Robert Bennett. Under the terms of that deal Rosty would have resigned from Congress, served a few months in the pokey, and paid out a few tens of thousands of dollars in restitution. The chairman rejected that arrangement, fired his lawyer - and promptly went on to lose his Congressional seat because he was too transparently corrupt even for voters steeped in Chicago politics. …