Hastert attorney says former speaker intends to plead guilty

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CHICAGO (STMW) - Former U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert may plead guilty in court Oct. 28,  five months to the day after federal prosecutors unveiled a stunning indictment against the once powerful Republican, the Chicago Sun-Times is reporting.

U.S. District Judge Thomas Durkin on Thursday set the change-of-plea date at the request of Hastert’s lawyers. Prosecutors said they expect to reach a written plea agreement with Hastert by then. Defense attorneys also indicated they are not waiving any right to back out of the deal in the next two weeks.

Hastert has not shown his face in court since he pleaded not guilty June 9 to skirting banking laws and lying to the FBI. The charges were unveiled by federal prosecutors in a bombshell indictment announced May 28. It accused Hastert of an alleged $3.5 million hush-money scheme.

The case became even more sensational when sources told media outlets, including the Chicago Sun-Times, that Hastert paid millions of dollars to a longtime male acquaintance to cover up alleged sexual misconduct.

Hastert lawyer Thomas Green has said those leaks were “unconscionable.” He told a judge in July the leakers “effectively amended” Hastert’s indictment in an “impermissible” way, and he said “there’s now an 800-pound gorilla in this case.”

The indictment against Hastert, a man once second in line to the presidency, is vague. It triggered a search for Hastert’s alleged hush-money recipient, but that hunt has so far been unsuccessful. Known only as “Individual A,” that person is described in Hastert’s indictment simply as “a resident of Yorkville” who has known Hastert “most of Individual A’s life.”

Between 2010 and 2014, Hastert allegedly withdrew $1.7 million in hush money from his bank accounts, handing it over to “Individual A” to keep quiet about past misconduct, according to the indictment. Hastert had ultimately agreed to pay that person $3.5 million, the indictment alleged.

But Hastert illegally split up the withdrawal of $952,000 to evade the banks’ reporting requirements, according to the feds. Then, when the FBI got suspicious and asked Hastert if he made withdrawals as large as $50,000 because he didn’t trust the banks, he allegedly lied and said, “Yea … I kept the cash. That’s what I’m doing.”

More embarrassing details could spill out if the case goes to trial. Experts have repeatedly predicted Hastert would try to avoid such a proceeding. Prosecutors have said a trial could last two weeks, and Durkin has said he’d prefer it begin as soon as March or April.

Hastert’s lawyers said last month they were trying to resolve his case short of trial, and authorities confirmed that plea negotiations were underway.