Hastert attorney defended attorney general in Watergate scandal

 
 
Updated 6/9/2015 6:20 AM
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  • Dennis Hastert

    Dennis Hastert

Former U.S. Speaker Dennis Hastert, set to appear before a federal judge for the first time Tuesday, has chosen a nationally renowned defense attorney with a roster of federal officials as clients and experience in the infamous Watergate case.

Hastert hired Thomas Green of the firm Sidley Austin, who represented former Assistant Attorney General Robert Mardian in the Watergate era and more recently Richard Syron, the former Freddie Mac CEO embroiled in the national mortgage crisis.

Chicago-based attorney John Gallo, also of Sidley Austin, will represent Hastert, too, according to a court filings. Gallo counts Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker among his clients.

Messages left for both attorneys weren't immediately returned Monday.

Hastert is expected in federal court in Chicago at 2 p.m. Tuesday to enter a plea. He's charged with lying to the FBI about withdrawing nearly $1 million in apparent hush money to avoid federal financial reporting regulations.

Hastert did not have an attorney of record before Monday and has made no statements since the charges were announced May 28.

Tuesday could be Hastert's first public comments about the accusations. He probably will have to appear in person for his arraignment and is likely to enter a not guilty plea, said Richard Kling, clinical professor of law at Chicago-Kent College of Law.

"His lawyer cannot step up for arraignment unless there is already a plea agreement," said Kling, who is not involved in the case.

The legal proceedings might not be lengthy, Kling said. A relatively quick case could get both Hastert and Individual A -- the person Hastert is accused of agreeing to pay $3.5 million in hush money -- out of the intense media spotlight.

It's unclear whether government attorneys will speak in court about the secret Hastert is accused of seeking to conceal by paying the money. Prosecutors typically provide an overview of the charges at arraignments, occasionally adding some new details.

A person familiar with the allegations told The Associated Press the payments were intended to conceal claims Hastert sexually molested someone decades ago. Prosecutors do not describe the act underlying the case in the indictment, which some legal observers said was peculiar. The indictment does hint at it, saying that whatever happened took place during Hastert's teaching and coaching years from 1965 to 1981 in Yorkville.

Hastert, 73, had cemented a legacy before he was indicted last month and rose to prominence while serving as speaker through the 9/11 attacks. Now, no matter what happens in the case, it will be tough for Hastert to shake the allegations that have followed him for weeks. The hits to his reputation have been immediate.

Wheaton College almost immediately pulled Hastert's name off the Center for Economics, Government, and Public Policy that he helped found. Hastert contacted state lawmakers before the indictment was announced to ask them to defer their effort to spend up to a half a million dollars to put a statue of him on the Illinois Capitol grounds.

A Washington lobbyist before being indicted, Hastert was at the end of his career in elected politics, leaving him little chance to repair his image.

"I don't know how you rehabilitate your image from this," said Northern Illinois University political scientist Matt Streb.

Tuesday's hearing also could reveal whether federal Judge Thomas Durkin will recuse himself from the case. Durkin, assigned at random on Hastert's case, is the brother of Illinois House Republican Leader Jim Durkin of Western Springs. Judge Durkin gave Hastert a total of $1,500 in campaign cash in 2002 and 2004.

Hastert is accused of failing to report bank withdrawals of more than $10,000 in cash and "structuring" -- withdrawing a series of lesser amounts in an attempt to avoid reporting. He also is accused of lying to the FBI about it.

The charges primarily were designed to catch drug dealers and other underworld figures laundering illegal proceeds. Using it in a case of extortion would be novel, especially since authorities aren't targeting who they call the extorter but the one being extorted -- Hastert. No one in Hastert's case is alleging that the money he withdrew was illegal or derived from some crime enterprise.

Hastert's lawyers could try to employ what's called "a compulsion defense" -- that Hastert was compelled to break the banking rules and to lie to the FBI because he was being blackmailed, said Chicago defense attorney Joseph Lopez, who is not involved in the case.

The downside of that strategy, Lopez says: A defendant "would have to take the stand -- and he would have to admit to everything in the past and reveal his secrets."

•The Associated Press contributed to this story

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