Former U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert is set to make his first court appearance in his hush-money case on Thursday, when he is expected to enter a plea before a federal judge who previously donated $1,500 to the then-Illinois congressman’s re-election campaign.
The arraignment for Hastert, a Republican who was once second in line to the U.S. presidency, comes a week after a grand jury indictment alleged he agreed to pay $3.5 million to ensure someone from the Illinois town where he taught and coached stayed quiet about “prior misconduct” by Hastert.
The office of U.S. District Judge Thomas M. Durkin confirmed the arraignment date, then told The Associated Press later Monday that Durkin could not comment on any aspect of the case, including whether he might recuse himself.
The indictment charges Hastert, 73, with one count of evading bank regulations by withdrawing $952,000 in increments of less than $10,000 to skirt reporting rules. He also is charged with lying to the FBI about the reason for the unusual withdraws. If convicted, Hastert faces a maximum five-year prison sentence on each count.
The indictment does not say what Hastert was allegedly trying to hide. But a person familiar with the allegations told the AP the payments were meant to conceal claims he sexually molested someone decades ago. The person spoke to the AP on the condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing and the allegations are not contained in the indictment.
Hastert hasn’t returned messages, spoken or appeared in public since he was indicted, and no attorney or representative has spoken on his behalf.
Durkin, who is 61 and the brother of Illinois House GOP Leader Jim Durkin, donated $500 to the Hastert’s congressional campaign in 2002 and $1,000 in 2004, Federal Election Commission records show. Durkin was an attorney at the Mayer Brown law firm in Chicago at the time.
Judicial ethicist Bob Cummins, who practices law in Chicago and Portland, Maine, said recusal is not clearly called for in this case.
“I’m not at all sure that would be a basis to disqualify himself,” Cummins said about the contributions. “I think Durkin has impeccable character.”
He added, however, that Durkin could still step aside if he determines there might be a perception of bias.
The May 28 indictment details a 2010 agreement between Hastert and a person identified only as “Individual A” to pay millions to “compensate for and conceal (Hastert’s) prior misconduct” against the unnamed individual.
The indictment notes Hastert was a history teacher and coach from 1965 to 1981 in Yorkville, a Chicago suburb. The other party “has been a resident of Yorkville and has known Hastert for most of Individual A’s life,” the document said.
Federal agents have not arrested Hastert. Defendants who aren’t considered a threat or a flight risk are often not placed under arrest, though a formal detention hearing is frequently held later.
When the House speaker-turned-Washington lobbyist enters the federal courthouse in downtown Chicago, he will be the latest politician in a long line of Illinois elected officials to do so to answer criminal charges. Others include two successive governors in the 2000s, Republican George Ryan and Democrat Rod Blagojevich, who were both eventually convicted on corruption charges.
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Associated Press writer Eric Tucker in Washington, D.C., contributed to this report.
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