By Taylor Hall
Former U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert pleaded not guilty Tuesday to federal charges that he evaded bank regulations and lied to the FBI after withdrawing money to pay someone to compensate for and to conceal his alleged past misconduct.
His first appearance since the indictment was brought against him on May 28, Hastert stood silently and clasped his hands as his lead attorney Thomas Green, who has covered scandals from Watergate to Whitewater, entered a plea of not guilty on both counts.
Dressed in a dark suit and his body slumped, the only words Hastert spoke during the 15-minute arraignment were “yes” and “yes, sir” when Judge Thomas M. Durkin asked him to identify his signature.
According to last month’s indictment, Hastert agreed in 2010 to pay Individual A $3.5 million to “compensate for and conceal prior misconduct” against that person; it says he paid $1.7 million before federal agents began scrutinizing the transactions.
Hastert allegedly started by withdrawing $50,000 at a time and changed course when banks flagged those withdrawals. The indictment says he then began taking cash out in increments of less than $10,000 to skirt reporting rules primarily meant to thwart money laundering.
While the indictment does not say what Hastert was allegedly trying to hide, reports have suggested he was allegedly using the money to conceal claims he sexually molested someone decades ago during his time as a teacher and wresting coach at Yorkville High School.
Hastert was released on $4,500 bond, and ordered to cooperate with a DNA sample, surrender his passport, restrict travel to the continental U.S., and remove all weapons from his property by June 23. Hastert’s lawyers negotiated additional time for the “non-standard” specification of removal of these weapons, which they said were stored in safes on Hastert’s property by his sons, who had the only access to them.
After reading the conditions of the bond, Durkin of the Federal District Court for the Northern District of Illinois announced that he had some disclosures to make, saying he was “not so naïve as to believe a reasonable person would not question my impartiality.”
Durkin disclosed contributions to Hastert’s political campaigns in 2002 and 2004, and a “friendly business colleague” relationship with Hastert’s son, Ethan, whom he worked with during his time at Chicago law firm Mayer Brown. Judge Durkin’s brother, Jim Durkin, is the Illinois House minority leader, and in the same political party as Hastert.
For these reasons, Durkin said he would recuse himself from the case unless both parties waived these grounds of disqualification by Thursday at 4 p.m. in light of his full disclosure.
Chicago lawyer Richard Kling said after the arraignment he would be surprised if the parties opted out. “He’s been here a long time, he’s been a fair judge. I don’t see why he wouldn’t be fair here,” Kling said.