Former House Speaker Dennis Hastert To Plead Guilty In Hush Money Case
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Former U.S. House speaker Dennis Hastert has stayed out of public view since this summer when he was accused of paying someone hush money and lying about it to the FBI. Today, his attorneys told a federal judge in Chicago that Hastert intends to plead guilty. This is a change from what he said in June, but he wasn't in court today to explain the switch. NPR's Cheryl Corley reports.
CHERYL CORLEY, BYLINE: The hearing for Dennis Hastert, the longest serving Republican House speaker, took place in a large federal court room. It took just seconds for lawyers to say that Hastert now plans to plead guilty. The attorneys didn't speak to reporters afterwards, but Jeffrey Cramer, a former federal prosecutor in Chicago, says it was almost a given that Hastert would decide to change his plea.
JEFFREY CRAMER: This was an overwhelming case for federal prosecutors.
CORLEY: Prosecutors allege that Hastert promised to pay three-and-a-half million dollars to a person identified only as Individual A, who is from Hastert's hometown of Yorkville, Ill., about 50 miles southwest of Chicago. Hastert was a high school history teacher and coach in the 1960s and '70s. Although the indictment is vague, various media outlets have reported that the payments were meant to suppress allegations of sexual misconduct from becoming public. Investigators say Hastert gave Individual A nearly $2 million over a four year period. When bank officials flagged those large withdrawals, Hastert reportedly began structuring them to just under $10,000 to avoid federal reporting rules. And that, says Cramer, is where Hastert went wrong.
CRAMER: It showed a man that was trying to get money to another individual pretty frantically. And with that as a backdrop, it's doubtful that Mr. Hastert ever wanted his day in court, with respect to a public jury trial, where the facts of why he was structuring this money could come out.
CORLEY: Hastert's case has been public since last May when the charges were first announced. Lawyers say they'll submit the negotiated plea deal to Judge Durkin on Monday. Richard Kling, a professor at Chicago-Kent College of Law, says Hastert and the attorneys had a lot to figure out.
RICHARD KLING: He's an older gentleman - what's going to happen to him, where he's going to go, whether he's going to do prison time, under what circumstances. And the judge has to approve it. And very often in political cases, the fact that the lawyers have agreed doesn't necessarily mean that the judge has agreed.
CORLEY: And Cramer says the aim of the plea agreement is to ensure that no details about any alleged misconduct by the former congressman are included.
CRAMER: What he's charged with is structuring. So that's really all he needs to allocute to, is, I structured money to avoid detection. Why he did it is, I suppose, mildly interesting but not legally significant.
CORLEY: October 28 is the scheduled court date for Dennis Hastert to appear and officially change his plea to guilty. Cheryl Corely, NPR News, Chicago. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.