Lawyers for Dennis Hastert in plea negotiations with prosecutors
State Rep. Dennis Hastert savors his Congressional victory at his campaign office in the Baker Hotel in St. Charles, Ill. on Nov. 5, 1986.(Don Casper / Chicago Tribune)
Former U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert leaves after his guilty plea at the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse in Chicago on Oct. 28, 2015.(Zbigniew Bzdak, Chicago Tribune)
(Antonio Perez, Chicago Tribune)
(Zbigniew Bzdak, Chicago Tribune)
(Terrence A. James, Chicago Tribune)
Former U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert, second from right, is led by Sidley Austin attorney John Gallo as they make their way through the media gathering at Chicago’s Dirksen U.S. Courthouse on June 9, 2015. Hastert was in court for his arraignment on charges he evaded bank regulations and lied to the FBI.(Zbigniew Bzdak, Chicago Tribune)
Former U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert makes his way from his Plano home to a limousine waiting in his driveway June 9, 2015. Hastert was due in federal court later in the day, accused of evading bank regulations and lying to the FBI.(Warren Skalski, for the Chicago Tribune)
U.S. Rep. Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., announces his retirement to reporters and supporters Aug. 17, 2007, in Yorkville.(Antonio Perez, Chicago Tribune)
Former Gov. Jim Edgar, left, and former U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert greet people during an Illinois Business Immigration Coalition event April 22, 2014, in Chicago.(Brian Cassella, Chicago Tribune)
Cardinal Francis George, left, and former House Speaker Dennis Hastert talk after each spoke about the need for immigration reform during a conference at DePaul University on Feb., 4, 2014.(Abel Uribe, Chicago Tribune)
Former U.S. Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert takes part in a panel discussion at Wheaton College on Oct. 30, 2012.(Nuccio DiNuzzo, Chicago Tribune)
Former U.S. Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert at a panel discussion at Wheaton College on Oct. 30, 2012.(Nuccio DiNuzzo, Chicago Tribune)
Former Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert, right, and Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, notice that Hastert is wearing the same tie as in his portrait during the painting’s official unveiling at the U.S. Captiol on July 28, 2009, in Washington.(Chip Somodevilla, Getty Images)
Former House Speaker Dennis Hastert and former Gov. Rod Blagojevich talk with reporters after a meeting with legislative leaders to discuss the budget July 31, 2008, in Chicago.(Alex Garcia, Chicago Tribune)
Former House Speaker Dennis Hastert, Northern Illinois University Chairwoman Cherilyn Murer and Dr. Allan Thornton, Midwest Proton Radiotherapy Institute medical adviser, talk at a groundbreaking for the Northern Illinois Proton Treatment and Research Center at the DuPage National Technology Park on June 19, 2008, in West Chicago.(Chuck Berman, Chicago Tribune)
Former U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert enjoys his visit March 5, 2008, to the Illinois House at the state Capitol in Springfield. Hastert was being honored by Illinois lawmakers for his many years of legislative service.(Seth Perlman, AP)
Former House Speaker Dennis Hastert walks through Statuary Hall on his way to the House floor to make his farewell address to Congress on Nov. 15, 2007, in Washington(Chip Somodevilla, Getty Images)
House Speaker Dennis Hastert thanks supporter Sondra Hecox of St. Charles on election night Nov. 7, 2006, at the Baker Hotel in St. Charles.(Bonnie Trafelet, Chicago Tribune)
House Speaker Dennis Hastert, left, introduces the new House Majority Leader, Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, center, after he defeated Rep. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., right, on Feb. 2, 2006. Blunt had assumed the position on an interim basis after Rep. Tom DeLay stepped down following his indictment.(Pete Souza, Chicago Tribune)
House Speaker Dennis Hastert, right, listens to interim House Majority Leader Roy Blunt, R-Mo., on Sept. 28, 2005, after House Majority Leader Tom DeLay stepped down from his leadership position following his indictment.(Pete Souza, Chicago Tribune)
Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert, left, greets former Illinois Gov.
House Speaker Dennis Hastert speaks at a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington on May 18, 2005.(Pete Souza, Chicago Tribune)
Warrenville Mayor Vivian M. Lund and U.S. Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert talk March 23, 2005, after a ceremonial signing of an agreement with the Kerr-McGee chemical company for the removal of radioactive pollutants in Kress Creek and the west branch of the DuPage River.(John Dziekan, Chicago Tribune)
Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert walks through the U.S. Capitol building, August 4, 2004 in Washington D.C. flanked by security and members of his staff. Hastert had held the position of Speaker for 6 years and recently wrote a book detailing his life and career.(Steven Rosenberg / Chicago Tribune)
Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert in his office at the U.S. Capitol on August 4, 2004.(Steven Rosenberg / Chicago Tribune)
U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, left, Speaker Dennis Hastert and House Minority Leader
U.S. Rep. Dennis Hastert waves as he is introduced as speaker of the House by Rep.
House Speaker Dennis Hastert signs Dana Balicki’s boxing robe during a celebration of the expansion of the Rush-Copley Medical Center in Aurora on Aug. 27, 2002.(Abel Uribe, Chicago Tribune)
House Speaker Dennis Hastert awaits a television interview on election night in Aurora on Nov. 6, 2002.(E. Jason Wambsgans, Chicago Tribune)
House Speaker Dennis Hastert signs an autograph for Kate Stjefbold, 9, at Sandwich Fairground in Sandwich on July 19, 2002.(Michael Walker, for the Chicago Tribune)
Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, left, and House Speaker Dennis Hastert hold up sample tax cut checks during a Republican rally at the U.S. Capitol on Aug. 2, 2001, to celebrate all they’ve accomplished during the congressional session.(Pete Souza, Chicago Tribune)
President George W. Bush, right, chats with Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert during a Congressional Medal of Honor ceremony at the U.S. Capitol on July 26, 2001.(Pete Souza, Chicago Tribune)
President George W. Bush shakes hands with Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert, right, after addressing a joint session of Congress and a national television audience at the U.S. Capitol on Feb. 28, 2001. Vice President Dick Cheney, center, applauds Bush.(Pete Souza, Chicago Tribune)
U. S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert holds a news conference Feb. 12, 2001, on the driveway of his home in Yorkville to let the media know that he is fine after surgery the night before to alleviate discomfort from kidney stones.(Mario Petitti, Chicago Tribune)
Senate Majority Leader
Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert speeds off Sept. 22, 1999, while driving a minicar in the third annual “Capitol Hill Challenge,” for the Kmart Kids Race Against Drugs.(Pete Souza, Chicago Tribune)
House Speaker Dennis Hastert greets supporters on election night, Nov. 7, 2000, in Aurora.(Stephanie Sinclair, Chicago Tribune)
House Speaker Dennis Hastert is prepped for a CBS news show on election night, Nov. 7, 2000, in Aurora.(Stephanie Sinclair, Chicago Tribune)
U.S. Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert watches as fishing instructor Owen Owens tries to untangle his line from a tree during an early-morning fishing trip to Valley Forge State Park in Pennsylvania on July 31, 2000.(Stephanie Sinclair, Chicago Tribune)
U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, left, speaks during a City Hall news conference as U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert whispers to Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, right. The news conference in 1999 announced the partial federal funding of the reconstruction of Chicago’s Lower Wacker Drive and completion of the Stevenson Expressway repairs.(Chris Walker, Chicago Tribune)
U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert, right, and U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush, center, applaud as third-grader Kiara Hastings, left, finishes her introductory speech during the congressmen’s visit to the Arna Bontemps Public School in the Englewood neighborhood June 1, 1999.(John Lee, Chicago Tribune)
Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert poses for a photo with eighth-grade American history students after speaking to them at Batavia Middle School on May 10, 1999.(Mario Petitti, Chicago Tribune)
(Pete Souza, Chicago Tribune)
Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert poses with a couple who recognized him as he departed the National Prayer Breakfast on Feb. 17, 1999, in Washington. A plainclothes Capitol police officer stands guard as Hastert aide Sam Lancaster takes the picture.(Pete Souza, Chicago Tribune)
Dennis Hastert appears at a Yorkville radio station in 1999.(Candice C. Cusic, Chicago Tribune)
Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert gets his hair cut by Chuck Wolfe, owner of Chuck’s in Yorkville, on Feb. 16, 1999.(Candice C. Cusic, Chicago Tribune)
Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert pays the check at the Cozy Corner Family Restaurant in Yorkville on Feb. 16, 1999.(Candice C. Cusic, Chicago Tribune)
Jean Hastert sits with her husband, Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert, and family friend Bob Williams inside the Cozy Corner Family Restaurant in Yorkville on Feb. 16, 1999.(Candice C. Cusic, Chicago Tribune)
Vice President Al Gore, left, and Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert applaud President Bill Clinton before his State of the Union address Jan. 19, 1999, in Washington, D.C.(Pete Souza, Chicago Tribune)
Newly elected U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert, right, and Mayor
Dennis Hastert, new Speaker of the House, is congratulated by Democratic Minority Leader Dick Gephardt on Jan. 6, 1999.(Pete Souza, Chicago Tribune)
Rep. Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., with his wife, Jean, at his side, speaks at a news conference Jan. 5, 1999, in Washington.(Pete Souza, Chicago Tribune)
State Rep. Dennis Hastert, R-Yorkville, speaks about a public utilities bill June 21, 1985, in Springfield.(John W. Cary, UPI)
State Reps. Dennis Hastert and Jane Barnes speak in 1983 on the bipartisan Illinois Legislative Investigating Commission at the State of Illinois Building in Chicago. The group studied child abuse. Rep. Aaron Jaffe, D-Skokie, and Hastert, R-Oswego, co-chaired the group.(Val Mazzenga, Chicago Tribune)
State Rep. Dennis Hastert campaigns for Congress in 1986 in Aurora.(David Butow, Chicago Tribune)
State Rep. Dennis Hastert, 39th District.(Chicago Tribune historical photo)
Former U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert in a photo from a 1973 Yorkville High School yearbook when he was the school’s wrestling coach.(Handout)
Dennis Hastert in a photo in the 1966 Yorkville High School yearbook, the first year he taught at the school.(Handout)
Former U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert is negotiating a possible guilty plea to charges he agreed to make $3.5 million in hush-money payments to cover up wrongdoing from decades ago.
The plea negotiations, revealed Monday during a hearing in federal court, are the first indication that the bombshell charges brought against the Republican powerhouse might never be fully aired at trial.
Legal experts who spoke to the Tribune said it wouldn’t be surprising if Hastert chose to avoid a trial that almost certainly would include testimony from Individual A, the mysterious figure who prosecutors say took cash from Hastert to keep quiet about a dark history with him.
“Mr. Hastert allegedly spent millions to try to keep something secret, so a public trial certainly can’t be high on his list,” said Jeffrey Cramer, a former federal prosecutor who heads the Kroll security company in Chicago.
The indictment unsealed in late May alleges that Hastert agreed to make $3.5 million in hush-money payments to Individual A to cover up wrongdoing from Hastert’s time as a high school teacher and wrestling coach in Yorkville. According to the charges, Hastert lied about the reasons he withdrew $952,000 in cash over the previous 2 1/2 years when the FBI questioned him in December.
Though the indictment hints only at the alleged wrongdoing, federal law enforcement sources have told the Tribune that Hastert was paying to cover up sexual abuse of a Yorkville High School student years ago. The FBI also interviewed a second person who raised similar allegations against Hastert, sources said.
Cramer said it’s likely that as part of the plea negotiations Hastert’s lawyers would be seeking to keep any salacious details from coming out at a sentencing hearing.
But if Hastert tried to argue for a lenient sentence from the judge by presenting letters of support or other good works from his career, prosecutors could counter with evidence they would have presented at trial, he said.
“We don’t know what’s at the heart of this case, and it is possible we may never know,” Cramer said.
Longtime Chicago criminal defense attorney Jeffrey Steinback said the high-profile nature of the case ratchets up the pressure for both sides. Prosecutors not only have to consider protecting “potentially innocent third parties” but also the public perception of any deal that is reached, he said.
“When the spotlight of media is shining on a particular investigation, it does make a difference,” Steinback said. “There is pressure on the government as much as on the defense. It’s just a different kind.”
At Monday’s court hearing, John Gallo, one of Hastert’s attorneys, said the defense legal team has been discussing with federal prosecutors a possible resolution to the case short of a trial — a reference to the plea negotiations. He called the talks “productive.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven Block confirmed for the judge that talks on a plea deal were ongoing and asked that the two sides be given additional time for the discussions.
“This is not a situation where both sides are sitting on their hands,” Block said. “In fact, it’s the opposite.”
U.S. District Judge Thomas Durkin said he was “more than happy” for both sides to resolve issues behind closed doors, but he said he wanted the case to move along. He asked both sides to give him an update at the next hearing Oct. 15 in the hopes he could then set either a trial date for March or April or an earlier date for Hastert to plead guilty.
At an unrelated news conference Monday afternoon, U.S. Attorney Zachary Fardon declined to elaborate on the talks.
“In open court this morning, there was acknowledgment by both parties that there have been plea discussions, but beyond that I’m not going to comment on a pending case,” Fardon said after giving a speech to the City Club of Chicago.
Hastert pleaded not guilty in June to one count each of evading currency reporting requirements and lying to the FBI and remains free on his own recognizance. He was not required to attend Monday’s hearing.
Gallo told the judge that the defense has completed a 37-page motion to dismiss the indictment and has shared a copy with prosecutors before filing it publicly. He said the motion raises “government misconduct issues” as well as legal arguments to dismiss the charge of lying to the FBI.
Hastert’s Washington-based lawyer, Thomas Green, has twice lashed out in court over alleged government leaks in the case, calling allegations reported in the media of sexual abuse in Hastert’s past “unconscionable” and saying a fair trial could be jeopardized. He has said he planned to file a motion seeking to dismiss the indictment on those grounds.
“We have some serious things to say in these motions,” Green said at a hearing in July.
In the phone interview Monday, Cramer said it’s unusual for defense attorneys to give a “preview” of their motions to prosecutors, but it could prove to be a cunning tactic to play off of any “embarrassment factor” that the government may have over the leaks.
“It’s hard to maneuver, to make these motions and keep things private,” Cramer said. “It’s a game of chess and also a little bit of a game of chicken.”
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