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Signs of Plea Deal Grow Stronger in Case of Former House Speaker Dennis Hastert

by Pete Williams and Phil Rogers /

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Lawyers for former House speaker Dennis Hastert are due in federal court in Chicago Thursday morning, amid growing signs that a plea deal with federal prosecutors is near.

Hastert was indicted by a grand jury in May, accused of illegally evading federal bank transaction laws in making payments of nearly $2 million to a person identified in court documents only as "Person A."

Hastert agreed to make the payments to "compensate for and conceal past misconduct," the indictment said, but provided no further details about the nature of the conduct.

The grand jury said he agreed to pay "Person A" a total of $3.5 million in hush money.

Dennis Hastert
Then House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., sits for a portrait in his Capitol Hill office in 2007.Susan Walsh / AP file

Law enforcement officials have said the misconduct, committed when Hastert was a high school teacher and coach in Illinois, was sexual in nature and involved a male student.

Hastert was also charged with lying to federal agents about the payments. He pleaded not guilty and remains free on bond.

A federal judge had ordered Hastert's lawyers to file their pre-trial legal motions by Tuesday, October 13, but that deadline came and went with nothing filed — a strong sign that his lawyers and the government are nearing an agreement on a guilty plea.

Defense and prosecution lawyers have asked repeatedly for an extension of time, and they told the judge late last month in open court that they were discussing a possible plea deal.

Though pleading guilty would be a personal blow to the former House speaker, it would let him to avoid an even more embarrassing trial. And it would allow him to prevent further disclosure of the details of any past misconduct.

Hastert is not expected in court Thursday. The judge had earlier excused him from appearing at what was expected to be a hearing on the status of the case.

Prosecutors accused Hastert of withdrawing $1.7 million dollars from four banks to make the payments. They say he reduced the size of the withdrawals to evade federal bank transaction rules.

Asked to explain his conduct, Hastert told FBI agents that he didn't trust banks, the indictment said.

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