Lawyers representing former Rep. Dennis Hastert said the retired U.S. House speaker will plead guilty to an indictment accusing him of making $3.5 million in payment to cover up something that happened years before he was elected to Congress.
The announcement was made as both sides in the case appeared before the U.S. District judge in Chicago on Thursday morning. U.S. District Judge Thomas Durkin scheduled the plea to be made on October 28, two weeks from Wednesday. The written plea agreement has already been created and agreed-to by the defendant and the U.S. Justice Department. Durkin will see the agreement on Monday, according to federal prosecutors.
Negotiations for the plea agreement were announced in a hearing in September when John Gallo, representing the now-disgraced Hastert, told the court the defense had been talking to the prosecution to resolve the case without going to trial. Gallo called the talks productive during that hearing.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven Block told the judge during the September hearing that talks were still going on and requested for more time to try and reach an agreement.
Hastert, who is the longest-serving Republican U.S. Speaker of the House, was indicted in May on charges that he agreed to make $3.5 million in payments to silence an unidentified person whom prosecutors called Individual A. The indictment also said the cover up stemmed from Hastert’s time as a wrestling coach and teacher at Yorkville High School in Yorkville, Illinois. While those involved with the case would not say on record why he would need to make hush money payments, federal officials anonymously stated he was covering up sexual abuse of a male student at the high school from before his time as an Illinois state representative or U.S. congressman. According to the indictment, Hastert had lied to FBI investigators about why he withdrew $952,000 from the bank over 2 1/2 years. The FBI also talked to a second person who alleged sexual assault against the former representative of the far west Chicago suburbs, sources told The Chicago Tribune in May.
The plea deal will enable Hastert to avoid any public discussion of the alleged abuse and prevent further embarrassment already heaped upon the 73-year-old man. The indictment alleged Individual A had approached Hastert about misconduct done prior to 1981 when Hastert was still at Yorkville High School. Hastert agreed to pay the individual $3.5 million to make up for the wrongdoing, withdrawing large sums of cash from the bank to make the payments, according to the charges. The indictment continues that after the bank confronted the former speaker about the large withdrawal amounts, he began to take money out at less than $10,000, which is the benchmark in which banks are required to report about large cash transactions based on a federal law designed to stem American banks from financing prospective terrorists.
With a frenzied media storm surrounding the Chicago courthouse outside in June, Hastert was inside pleading not guilty to the charges of evading currency reporting requirements — part of a law he helped pass in Congress as speaker — and lying to the FBI. He was let go on his own recognizance at the time.
In 1981, Hastert left Yorkville High School after he was appointed to the Illinois General Assembly as a state representative. In 1986, he ran to replace the terminally-ill U.S. Rep. John Grotberg of Illinois’ 14th District and was appointed to serve out the rest of the term shortly after the election win as Grotberg had succumbed to cancer. He was elected U.S. Speaker of the House in December 1998 amid Newt Gingrich’s retirement after House Republicans lost five seats in the midterm elections and Rep. Robert Livingston (R-Louisiana) stepped down as Speaker-elect after reports of an affair broke out.
Hastert served as Speaker from January 1999 until January 2007, when the Democrats swept back into control of both chambers in the 2006 elections. He retired in November 2007 after serving more than 30 years in Congress. The eight years as speaker made Hastert the longest-serving Republican in that post and the fourth-longest Speaker in U.S. history.