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Hastert Pleads Not Guilty To Federal Indictment

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Former U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert pleaded not guilty Tuesday to charges he paid hush money to conceal wrongdoing before he entered politics, and lied to the FBI when questioned about the money.

Dressed in a dark blue suit, the 73-year-old Hastert appeared frail, hunching over as he walked through a crowd of photographers and reporters waiting outside the Dirksen Federal Courthouse on Tuesday.

Hastert pleaded guilty when he appeared before U.S. District Judge Thomas Durkin. He was allowed to remain free on his own recognizance, and would only have to post $4,500 bill if he misses a court date.

He was ordered to provide a DNA sample, surrender his passport, avoid contact with anyone named in the indictment, and surrender all firearms in his possession. Hastert's two sons have firearms on his property, and at the request of his attorneys, Durkin gave Hastert's sons two weeks to remove those guns from the property.

Durkin acknowledged he once worked with Hastert's son, Ethan, at a law firm, but said they are not friends, have not seen each other in years, and have not discussed the case. Durkin also admitted making two campaign contributions to Hastert before Durkin was a judge, but said he has never met the defendant. Durkin said the case was assigned to him at random, and he has "no doubt I can be impartial in this matter," but said he would leave it up to prosecutors and defense attorneys to decide if another judge should be assigned to the case.


Hastert, who was second in line to succeed the president while he served eight years as the Republican Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives from 1999 to 2007, has not spoken publicly since he was indicted in late May on one count each of structuring currency transactions to evade Currency Transaction Reports and making a false statement to the FBI.

The indictment accused Hastert of illegally structuring bank withdrawals to hide $1.7 million in payments he made to a longtime acquaintance, and lying to the FBI when questioned about the banking activity.

Chicago–Kent College Law Professor Richard Kling says there were no surprises in the courtroom today and he predicts Hastert will negotiate a plea.

"I would imagine they're in negotiations," Kling said. "I can't image he is going to go to trial because if he goes to trial, all of the dirty laundry is no longer going to be under the bed."

Hastert's arraignment drew so much media attention, a judge in a neighboring courtroom complained about noise from the throng of reporters waiting to get into Durkin's courtroom before Hastert's hearing.

Members of the group Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP) were also outside the courthouse.

"Anytime we can hold a sexual perpetrator accountable, it is a really good thing," said SNAP spokeswoman Barbara Blaine.

Federal prosecutors have alleged Hastert agreed to pay a total of $3.5 million to that acquaintance, identified only as "Individual A," to cover up past misconduct. Although the charges do not specify the misconduct, sources have said Hastert was making the payments to conceal allegations he sexually abused a student while he was a teacher and wrestling coach at Yorkville High School.

From 2010 to 2014, Hastert allegedly withdrew a total of approximately $1.7 million in cash from various bank accounts and provided it to this person. Initially, Hastert made 15 withdrawals in increments of $50,000 and paid the individual every six weeks.

Beginning in approximately July 2012, the banks started raising questions about the amount of the withdrawals, according to the indictment. Hastert then started structuring his cash withdrawals in increments of less than $10,000 to evade the filing of Currency Transaction Reports, which banks are required to file for cash withdrawals in excess of $10,000.

In 2014, Hastert altered the timing of the payments and provided $100,000 to the individual every three months, according to the indictment.

In December of 2014, when questioned by the FBI regarding his structuring of cash withdrawals, Hastert falsely stated that he was keeping the cash, prosecutors say. He told the agents at the time that he didn't trust the banking system and that he was holding the cash.

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