Ex-House Speaker Dennis Hastert reaches plea deal, to admit wrongdoing
Lawyers for Dennis Hastert said Thursday that the former U.S. House speaker plans to plead guilty to an indictment that alleges he agreed to make $3.5 million in hush money payments to cover up wrongdoing from years ago.
Hastert’s attorney, John Gallo, told U.S. District Judge Thomas Durkin that a written plea agreement has been worked out in the case.
Durkin set a hearing for Hastert to enter the guilty plea on Oct. 28 — five months to the day after the bombshell indictment against the powerhouse Republican was announced.
The plea negotiations, first revealed in a hearing late last month, mean many of the details surrounding Hastert’s prosecution might never be publicly aired, including the identity of Individual A, the mysterious figure who prosecutors say took cash from Hastert to keep quiet about a dark history with him.
Gallo declined to comment as he left the courtroom amid a swarm of reporters. Joseph Fitzpatrick, a spokesman for U.S. Attorney Zachary Fardon, also had no comment when asked about the details of the plea deal.
Hastert, 73, 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 did not attend Thursday’s brief hearing.
Jeffrey Cramer, a former federal prosecutor, told the Tribune on Thursday that it was possible both sides have agreed to a specific prison sentence for Hastert as part of the plea deal. Hastert’s attorneys could also reserve the right to seek probation for him.
Cramer also raised the possibility that the defense could seek to waive a sentencing hearing entirely to keep the salacious details underlying the charges from becoming public. That would be a highly unusual move, though, especially for such a high-profile case, and would require the approval of the judge.
“Dennis Hastert wants to avoid a sentencing hearing probably more than any other public official in history,” said Cramer, who heads the Chicago security firm Kroll. “Normally a public figure wants to present all the good things he’s done in his life. But that opens the door for prosecutors to bring in their own evidence.”
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 only hints 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 that prosecutors “are going to be looking for” a prison sentence for Hastert. In exchange, Hastert’s attorneys could have negotiated for the plea agreement to leave out the details behind his payments to Individual A, he said.
“It could be pretty vanilla,” he said. “The charges allege Mr. Hastert moved money around in structured withdrawals to avoid detection by authorities. There may be nothing in the plea agreement about why he did it. We may never know.”
Hastert’s appearance to enter his guilty plea will mark only the second time he has come to federal court on the charges. His first appearance for his arraignment sparked a media frenzy at the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse, where two national television reporters landed in hot water with the chief judge after they were accused of trying to approach the former speaker for interviews.
If the case were to proceed to trial, Hastert’s attorneys have said they plan to file a lengthy motion to dismiss the indictment. The motion raises “government misconduct issues” as well as legal arguments to dismiss the charge of lying to the FBI, Gallo told the judge last month.
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 had said he planned to file a motion seeking to dismiss the indictment on those grounds.
The judge had previously set Tuesday as the deadline to file the motion to dismiss the indictment, but nothing was publicly filed.
Gallo told the judge Thursday they wished to reserve their right to file motions if the plea deal falls through. The judge agreed.
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