With a simple “Guilty, sir,” former Speaker of the U.S. House John Dennis Hastert became a convicted felon Wednesday.
Hastert pleaded guilty Wednesday to violating federal banking laws and that he lied to FBI investigators. According to a plea agreement between the government and the defense, Hastert could serve between zero and six months in prison, though Judge Thomas Durkin admonished Hastert that he was not bound by that agreement. At his Feb. 29 sentencing, Hastert faces up to five years in prison.
Hastert was indicted in May after an investigation into payoffs to cover up allegations about sexual misconduct when he was a teacher and wrestling coach at Yorkville High School in the 1960s and 1970s.
It has been a stunningly devastating fall from power and respect to shame and isolation for Hastert, who served six years in the Illinois House before being elected to Congress in 1987. Hastert would be elected Speaker of the House 1999, where he was second in line to the Presidency for eight years before retiring in 2007.
While Hastert was known as a deal maker willing to engage in bi-partisan negotiation, he was also a member of the so-called “Moral Majority,” who as an Illinois House member helped block passage of the Equal Rights Amendment for women and opposed a bill prohibiting discrimination against gay people.
A Federal Election Commission report filed over the summer showed Hastert had shut down his “Keep Our Mission” leadership PAC and donated the remaining $8,330.28 to the newly formed J. Dennis Hastert Defense Trust.
Hastert was questioned at length by Durkin regarding his guilty plea to Count 2 of a federal indictment.
After Durkin found Hastert competent to enter a plea, he asked Hastert if he was satisfied with his legal representation.
“Yes I am, sir,” Hastert replied.
Durkin had the clerk hold up Hastert’s signed plea agreement and confirm his signature, which he did. Following a recitation by the prosecution of the charge Hastert was admitting to, the judge told Hastert he required a statement from him publicly acknowledging his guilt.
The prosecution made a point of emphasizing that Hastert engaged in illegal banking transactions because “He wanted the agreement with Individual A kept secret.” That person was reportedly blackmailing Hastert for alleged sexual abuse inflicted on him while Hastert was a wrestling coach at Yorkville High School in the 1960s and ’70s.
Hastert read from a short handwritten statement, saying he attempted to evade U.S. banking laws in withdrawing $952,000 in cash because “I didn’t want them to know how I spent the money or answer questions.”
In all, Hastert paid Individual A $1.7 million from 106 withdrawals made from five banks between April 2012 and September 2014.
Durkin set a Feb. 29, 2016 sentencing date. Hastert’s defense counsel Thomas Greene said he didn’t anticipate calling any witnesses at that time, while the prosecution said it had not made a decision on the matter.
— Hastert pleads guilty, faces up to five years —