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Former House Speaker Dennis Hastert Pleads Guilty In Hush Money Scheme


Today was a day of reckoning for former House speaker Dennis Hastert. The former Illinois congressman's legacy as the longest-serving Republican speaker is now in shreds. Hastert pleaded guilty to violating federal banking rules when he paid nearly $2 million to an unnamed individual. Here's NPR's Cheryl Corley.

CHERYL CORLEY, BYLINE: Flanked by two attorneys, 73-year-old Dennis Hastert, white-haired and standing slightly hunched, pleaded guilty in federal court to withdrawing funds from several bank accounts in increments less than $10,000 to evade bank reporting rules. Documents say $1.7 million went to a person identified by the government as individual A from Hastert's home town of Yorkville, Ill.

Multiple media reports citing anonymous sources indicate the payments were hush money to suppress allegations of sexual misconduct that occurred long ago when Hastert was a high school teacher and wrestling coach. There were no details in the plea agreement. Former federal prosecutor Jeffrey Cramer says that's no surprise.

JEFFREY CRAMER: Why he structured the money is irrelevant. He could've woken up a given day and just decided to start structuring money for absolutely no reason, and that's a crime.

CORLEY: The plea agreement no longer includes a charge that Hastert originally faced of lying to the FBI. Prosecutors are recommending Hastert serve a prison term of up to six months. Although, he could be sentenced to as much as five years. Roosevelt University political scientist Paul Green says it's a deep fall for a man who was once third in line for the presidency.

PAUL GREEN: Not only did he have a great reputation in Washington, but he also had a great reputation at the Illinois General Assembly. He was a very consummate politician - worked both sides of the aisle. He didn't have that many enemies.

CORLEY: The former U.S. speaker's sentencing hearing will be held next February. Cheryl Corley, NPR News, Chicago. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Cheryl Corley is a Chicago-based NPR correspondent who works for the National Desk. She primarily covers criminal justice issues as well as breaking news in the Midwest and across the country.

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