Hastert denies charges tied to scandal
CHICAGO — Former House Speaker Dennis Hastert, in his first public appearance since being indicted in an alleged hush money scandal, pleaded not guilty Tuesday in federal court to charges that he lied to the FBI and illegally structured bank withdrawals to pay off a former associate for misconduct that is believed to have occurred decades ago.
Hastert navigated a gantlet of news crews outside the federal courthouse to enter his plea and break a nearly two-week silence since prosecutors detailed allegations that the 73-year-old former speaker agreed to pay nearly $3.5 million to a person identified in court documents as “Individual A,” someone Hastert has known for most of the person’s life.
The indictment did not specify the misconduct, but a federal law enforcement official has told USA Today that the activity was sexual in nature and involved a young man Hastert knew during his tenure as a teacher and coach at Yorkville High School, a small town west of Chicago where Hastert once served as a wrestling coach and teacher. Prosecutors allege the person was paid $1.7 million before the charges were made public.
The former Republican lawmaker appeared before Judge Thomas Durkin, who has made a total of $1,500 in campaign donations in 2002 and 2004 to Hastert. Durkin, appointed to the federal bench by President Obama in 2012, acknowledged the contributions in open court.
He disclosed past working associations with one of Hastert’s sons and with one of the former speaker’s defense attorneys, yet he asserted that he could be fair. Nevertheless, he said he would remove himself from the case unless lawyers on both sides decided to waive objections and allow him to stay on. He gave attorneys until Thursday to make a decision.