Former House Speaker Pleads Not Guilty
CHICAGO (AP) -- Dennis Hastert appeared in court Tuesday for the first time since he was indicted, pleading not guilty to charges that he violated banking rules and lied to the FBI in a scheme to pay $3.5 million in hush money to conceal misconduct from his days as a high school teacher.
Defense attorney Thomas C. Green entered the pleas on Hastert's behalf.
The 73-year-old Republican has not spoken publicly about the accusations that emerged two weeks ago and raised questions about possible sexual abuse by a man who was once second in the line of succession to the presidency.
The politician-turned-lobbyist stepped before Judge Thomas M. Durkin on charges that he broke federal banking laws by withdrawing hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash and lying about the money when questioned.
A crush of reporters, photographers and TV cameras began gathering at dawn to ensure they did not miss Hastert if he arrived early for his arraignment. A long line also formed early outside the 14th-floor courtroom, and an overflow room was set aside for those unable to get in.
Green, who is based in Washington, has represented clients in the Watergate, Iran-Contra and Whitewater cases. Chicago attorney John Gallo is also on Hastert's defense team. Steven Block is the lead U.S. prosecutor.
It was unclear whether prosecutors might shed more light on the secret Hastert allegedly sought to conceal by paying the person the indictment refers to as "Individual A." Prosecutors typically provide an overview of charges at arraignments and sometimes disclose new details.
A person familiar with the allegations told The Associated Press the payments were intended to conceal claims Hastert sexually molested someone decades ago. The person spoke to the AP on the condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing.
Defendants in most cases enter not guilty pleas at arraignments, though their lawyers will sometimes tell judges they are holding plea talks with the U.S. attorney's office. Authorities never arrested Hastert, but the judge is expected to set a bail amount.
Prosecutors have not said if they will ask Durkin to recuse himself after election records showed he donated $500 to the "Hastert for Congress" campaign in 2002, and $1,000 in 2004. The arraignment would give them the chance to make that request.
If convicted, Hastert faces a maximum five-year prison term on each of the two counts.
The indictment says Hastert agreed in 2010 to pay Individual A $3.5 million to "compensate for and conceal (Hastert's) prior misconduct" against that person. It says he paid $1.7 million before federal agents began scrutinizing the transactions.
He allegedly started by withdrawing $50,000 at a time and changed course when automatic bank transaction reports flagged those withdrawals. The indictment says Hastert then began taking cash out in increments of less than $10,000 to skirt reporting rules, which are primarily meant to thwart money laundering by underworld figures.
It's not illegal to withdraw large amounts in cash. But it's against the law to stagger withdraws with the intent of dodging reporting requirements.
Hastert follows a well-trodden path of other Illinois politicians who have walked through the revolving doors at Chicago's federal courthouse. Several recent Illinois governors, Chicago aldermen and other public figures have entered pleas in the same building. Among the most recent was former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, a Democrat, and former Illinois Gov. George Ryan, a Republican. Both men were eventually convicted on corruption charges.