Jason MeisnerContact Reporter
Former U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert had been paying hush money to hide a dark secret for four years by the time federal agents came knocking last December, prosecutors allege.
When the FBI arrived at Hastert’s Plano estate on that snowy Monday morning, he had already been questioned by banks about a series of unusual $50,000 cash withdrawals he had made two years earlier. Still, he tried to keep his secret hidden, telling agents he was trying to store his own money because he didn’t feel safe with the banking system, according to prosecutors.
“Yeah … I kept the cash. That’s what I’m doing,” Hastert was quoted by prosecutors as saying to the agents.
Ten months after that crucial interview, Hastert, 73, is scheduled to walk into federal court in Chicago on Wednesday and plead guilty to a bombshell indictment that alleges he was making the withdrawals as part of an agreement to pay a total of $3.5 million to a longtime acquaintance, identified only as Individual A, to cover up wrongdoing from years ago.
Though the indictment only hints at the alleged wrongdoing, federal law enforcement sources have told the Tribune that Hastert was paying to cover up the sexual abuse of a student when Hastert was a wrestling coach and teacher at Yorkville High School.
Hastert, who has remained free on his own recognizance since pleading not guilty in June, faces one count each of evading currency-reporting requirements and making a false statement to the FBI.
Hastert’s admission of guilt would mark a startling fall from grace for a man who once held the nation’s third-highest political office. But the 8:30 a.m. hearing before U.S. District Judge Thomas Durkin could also leave more questions than answers.
Among the mysteries that could well remain unresolved is Individual A’s identity. That has been kept a well-guarded secret despite a concerted attempt by media outlets across the country to confirm who was allegedly receiving the payments from Hastert.
In addition, with such dry charges involved, the written plea agreement with prosecutors might not mention, let alone detail, Hastert’s underlying, allegedly sensational motive for paying Individual A. Prosecutors are required only to present a factual basis for the charges and tell the judge what they intended to prove if the case had gone to trial.
Hastert’s appearance at the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse — just his second since the shocking charges were announced in May — is expected to spark a media frenzy and has prompted court officials to set up an overflow courtroom and extra security measures for the anticipated crowds.
Hastert will likely be required to say very little in court. To show for the record he’s making the decision to plead guilty of his own free will, he will be questioned by the judge about his mental state, whether any promises had been made or any other issues that would preclude him from changing his plea. He also will be asked if everything the government alleged in the factual basis is true.