Facing a potential term in federal prison, U.S. Speaker Dennis Hastert made one of his last attempts to trade on what was once an abundance of political influence by asking a powerful protégé for a letter of support.
Hastert had written campaign checks to help former Illinois House Republican Leader Tom Cross win his post and had been an important mentor for the Oswego Republican.
But the recent phone calls seeking Cross's support ultimately prompted his brother, Scott Cross, to go public with something he said he'd kept hidden for decades. On Wednesday at Hastert's sentencing hearing, Scott Cross became the only living person to publicly accuse Hastert of sexual abuse, which he called "my darkest secret."
"That's what compelled me to come forward," Scott Cross told The Associated Press. "I hadn't made a decision,"
Through decades of association with Hastert, Tom Cross says he was never told the terrible truth.
Tom Cross was a former student of Hastert's at Yorkville High School and rose to lead Illinois Republicans in 2002 with backing from Hastert. He's thanked in the acknowledgments of Hastert's book, "Speaker: Lessons from Forty Years in Coaching and Politics."
Hastert adopted a black Labrador puppy from Cross.
They traded favors and compliments over the years, with Cross calling Hastert at his 2007 retirement "one of the best speakers in the history of Congress."
"I am speechless. He is my friend, has been my friend (and) will always be my friend," Cross told NBC 5 in Chicago after Hastert was indicted in May 2015.
Not long after that, Scott Cross said, he told his family about Hastert.
"After his prosecution became public, I told my older brother and my wife for the first time what had happened. I shared this with my parents for the first time last year," Scott Cross said at Hastert's hearing.
On Wednesday, Tom Cross' praise was only for his younger brother.
"We are very proud of Scott for having the courage to relive this very painful part of his life in order to ensure that justice is done today," he said in a statement. "We hope his testimony will provide courage and strength to other victims of other cases of abuse to speak out and advocate for themselves."
Scott Cross, known in court filings only as "Individual D," said he was sexually abused by Hastert in a Yorkville High School locker room one evening after wrestling practice.
Hastert, at his sentencing, said he did not remember abusing Scott Cross but "accepts his statement."
The statute of limitations on sexual abuse ran out long ago. Hastert pleaded guilty to illegally structuring cash withdrawals from his bank accounts to pay another man, known only as Victim A, and later lying to the FBI about it. But prosecutors describe the effort to suppress sexual abuse allegations as "at the core of this case."
As the case against Hastert moved forward, "I've had trouble sleeping and working," Scott Cross said. "This entire experience has been enormously painful for me and my family."
Five former U.S. congressmen, a onetime Illinois attorney general, and state politicians are among 41 people who wrote letters in support of disgraced Dennis Hastert in advance of his sentencing.
Tom Cross was not one of them.