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Hastert to make 1st court appearance in hush money case

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  • House Speaker Dennis Hastert

CHICAGO » Dennis Hastert is set to appear in court Tuesday for the first time since an indictment nearly two weeks ago alleged the former U.S. House speaker agreed to pay $3.5 million to someone from his days as high school teacher not to reveal a secret about past misconduct by the Illinois Republican.

Leading up to the arraignment in U.S. District Court in Chicago, the 73-year-old hasn’t spoken publicly about the allegations that prompted questions about possible sexual abuse by a man once second in line to the U.S. presidency.

The politician-turned-lobbyist is expected to step before Judge Thomas M. Durkin and enter a plea to charges that he broke federal banking laws by withdrawing hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash and lied about the hush money when questioned by the FBI.

When he goes into the courthouse, Hastert will likely have to stand in a security line, go through metal detectors and then walk past crowds of reporters and TV cameras awaiting his arrival.

Hastert’s lead attorney is Washington, D.C.-based lawyer Thomas C. Green, who has represented clients in the Watergate, Iran-Contra and Whitewater cases; Chicago attorney John Gallo is also on Hastert’s defense team. Steven Block is the lead U.S. prosecutor.

It’s unclear whether prosecutors might shed more light on the secret Hastert allegedly sought to conceal by paying the person the indictment refers to as "Individual A." Prosecutors typically provide an overview of charges at arraignments and sometimes disclose 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. The person spoke to the AP on the condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing.

Defendants in most cases enter not guilty pleas at arraignments, though defense lawyers will sometimes tell judges they are holding plea talks with the U.S. attorney’s office.

Prosecutors haven’t said if they’ll ask Durkin to recuse himself after election records showed he donated $500 to the "Hastert for Congress" campaign in 2002, and $1,000 in 2004. The arraignment would give them the chance to make that request.

If convicted, Hastert faces a maximum five-year prison term on each of the two counts.

The indictment says Hastert agreed in 2010 to pay Individual A $3.5 million to "compensate for and conceal (Hastert’s) prior misconduct" against that person; it says he paid $1.7 million before federal agents began scrutinizing the transactions.

He allegedly started by withdrawing $50,000 at a time and changed course when banks flagged those withdrawals. The indictment says he then began taking cash out in increments of less than $10,000 to skirt reporting rules primarily meant to thwart money laundering.

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