Hastert charged with lying to FBI about apparent hush money
Former U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert has been charged by federal prosecutors with lying to the FBI about withdrawing nearly $1 million in apparent hush money to avoid federal financial reporting regulations.
The 73-year-old Hastert, of Plano, is accused of trying to cover up payments he was making to a longtime acquaintance whom Hastert had wronged, according to the seven-page indictment released Thursday.
Hastert could not immediately be reached for comment, but when told by a reporter for Politico.com last week that he was going to be indicted, Hastert responded, "Well, it's not true," and hung up the phone.
Prosecutors said Hastert met with an unnamed associate from Yorkville in 2010 and agreed to pay $3.5 million "in order to compensate for and conceal his prior misconduct against" that individual. That person -- dubbed Individual A in the indictment -- was paid more than $1.7 million from 2010 to 2014.
The indictment does not provide any details into the relationship between Individual A and Hastert. But Individual A has known Hastert most of his or her life, growing up in Yorkville, the city next to Hastert's current hometown of Plano. Prosecutors said the actions "occurred years earlier" than the 2010 meeting that sparked the payments.
The investigation began in 2013, by the FBI and the Internal Revenue Service, which cited "possible structuring of currency transactions to avoid the reporting requirements."
Starting in June 2010 through April 2012, Hastert made 15 withdrawals of $50,000 from three different area banks and provided cash to Individual A every six weeks, according to the indictment.
Federal law requires financial transaction reports for any withdrawal or series of withdrawals of more than $10,000. Bank officials eventually questioned Hastert about the transactions in April 2012 and prosecutors said Hastert then began withdrawing in increments less than $10,000 to avoid reporting requirements, according to court papers.
It's those payments, that totaled almost $1 million, that Hastert is facing charges over.
In 2013, IRS and FBI officials began investigating Hastert's withdrawals, concerned that he was potentially being extorted or involved in some type of wrongdoing.
Hastert met with FBI agents in December 2014, and when asked if he was making withdrawals because he didn't feel his money was safe in the country's banking system, he replied, "Yeah ... I kept the cash. That's what I'm doing," according to the indictment.
Hastert faces a maximum of five years in jail if convicted.
The stunning indictment left a number of local politicians without comment. State Rep. Keith Wheeler, an Oswego Republican and former top Kendall County GOP official, urged people not to rush to judgment.
"I think that we should still stick to the innocent-until-proven-guilty approach. He deserves that as much as anybody else does," Wheeler said.
"It's a shock to me as much as anybody," Loren Miller, a longtime friend of Hastert from Yorkville, told The Washington Post. "He got his job because he didn't have any skeletons in his closet."
Miller first knew Hastert when he played high school football against him in the early 1960s -- Hastert for Oswego High, Miller for Yorkville. They later became close when Hastert entered political life, inviting Miller for trips to Washington and occasionally sharing perks like holiday baskets and a trip to the Kentucky Derby.
"I was one of his closest friends and got to do a lot of things, but nothing that wasn't on the level," Miller said.
Hastert would pay regular visits to Miller's auto restoration shop, though the visits became less frequent in recent years as Hastert spent more time in Washington, Miller said.
"I don't know the details, but I know what the man is made of, and I know that I will stand behind him."
In a congressional career that spanned 20 years, it is widely accepted that no one, including Hastert, ever expected the former high school wrestling coach to become third in line for the presidency.
But that all changed in December 1998 when outspoken GOP Speaker Newt Gingrich resigned the post in the wake of a poor midterm election result and the party chose Rep. Bob Livingston to replace him. It was soon discovered that Livingston had an extramarital affair, which ultimately forced Livingston's resignation, leaving a power vacancy once again. This all while former President Bill Clinton was undergoing an impeachment trial as a result of the Monica Lewinsky scandal.
Republican congressional leaders, rocked by the fiery Gingrich's departure and a sex scandal atop their own party, looked for a calming influence to helm and unite the House majority and chose the little-known Hastert.
And there Hastert stayed until retiring in 2007, becoming the longest-serving Republican House Speaker in history.
It was a reign that was not without controversy though.
An FBI translator claimed that wiretaps of Turkish targets uncovered talk of bribing Hastert to withdraw support of an Armenian Genocide resolution that had passed a House subcommittee. But investigators never found proof Hastert accepted any bribes. When he left office, Hastert became a lobbyist and received a contract from the Turkish government.
Hastert on Thursday resigned from the Washington lobbying firm Dickstein Shapiro, spokesman Jason Huntsman said.
Hastert also came under fire for a land deal that critics claimed would not have been as lucrative if it hadn't been for his support of a now-dead $1 billion bypass through the area linking interstates 80 and 88. Hastert contended the land he sold was miles from the proposed highway.
Hastert and other House GOP leaders were also deemed "willfully ignorant" by the House Ethics Committee in the wake of the Mark Foley congressional page scandal. Foley, a Florida Republican, was accused of sending sexually suggestive emails and text messages to teenage boys who had formerly served in the congressional page program.
Several GOP leaders claimed they warned Hastert about Foley's activities but Hastert ignored them. For his part, Hastert claims he was never warned. Foley resigned from office but was never charged criminally.
Hastert also came under fire for receiving federal funds while working as a lobbyist. He was paid a small allowance to maintain offices because of his status as former speaker. He argued that the work being done in those offices had nothing to do with his work as a lobbyist. But media outlets reported that Hastert's government-funded offices were used occasionally for personal business.
Hastert will be arraigned at a U.S. district court at an unspecified later date, according to the U.S. attorney's office for the Northern District of Illinois.
• Daily Herald staff writer Erin Hegarty and The Washington Post contributed to this story.