CHICAGO – An attorney for Dennis Hastert told a federal judge Thursday that the former House speaker intends to plead guilty in a federal hush-money case linked to allegations of sexual misconduct from decades ago.
John Gallo said during a brief hearing that he expects to have a written plea agreement by Monday. He asked the judge to set a date for a change of plea. The judge scheduled an Oct. 28 hearing.
Gallo did not describe any of the terms, including what counts Hastert would plead guilty to and any possible sentence, including prison time.
Defendants typically agree to change a plea to guilty in hopes of a more lenient sentence. A plea deal would also avert a trial and help keep any potentially embarrassing secrets quiet.
The 73-year-old Illinois Republican is charged with breaking banking laws and lying to the FBI in efforts to pay someone $3.5 million to hide claims of unspecified past misconduct.
The Associated Press and other media, citing anonymous sources, have reported the payments were meant to conceal claims of sexual misconduct.
Hastert allegedly structured cash withdrawals in increments of just under $10,000 to avoid financial reporting rules and then lied to the FBI about the reason for the withdrawals. Investigators have said Hastert withdrew about $1.7 million.
A plea deal would mean that "Individual A," who has never been identified, would not have to testify about receiving any of the money.
The indictment against Hastert does not detail the underlying misconduct, and both prosecutors and defense attorneys have taken steps to keep the information confidential.
Hastert's lead attorney, Thomas C. Green, has argued that the allegations in the media of past sexual misconduct -- which he blamed on government leaks -- could undermine Hastert's right to a fair trial.
In July, Green complained that the indictment had "effectively been amended" by leaks and referred to the sexual allegations as "an 800-pound gorilla in this case."
It's unclear if claims not in the indictment would have had any relevance at a trial, when prosecutors would likely have focused narrowly on mundane aspects of U.S. banking law. But they could have felt pressure to offer at least some details about the misconduct to explain motive to jurors.
When Hastert was charged in May, the indictment noted that he had been a longtime high school teacher and wrestling coach in Yorkville, west of Chicago, suggesting the charges are linked to that history.