The arraignment of Denny Hastert revealed little in terms of the particulars of the case.
Hastert, the former U.S. House speaker, pleaded not guilty to structuring bank withdrawals and lying to the FBI. The latter charge is the most serious, says law professor Richard S. Kling of Chicago-Kent College of Law.
“The government takes very seriously lying to the FBI. It’s one of the charges that brought Gov. Blagojevich down; I think it’s one of the charges that gonna potentially bring the speaker down,” he said.
Kling says he believes Hastert’s lawyers are in negotiations with prosecutors over terms of a guilty plea that will keep as much “dirty laundry” as possible under the bed. According to the indictment, Hastert was making bank withdrawals to make hush-money payments to a victim of unspecified past misconduct. Sources outside the legal system say the misconduct – not specified in the indictment – was sex with underage boys when Hastert was a teacher and coach at Yorkville High School in the 1960s and 70s.
Kling also says he believes the judge, Thomas M. Durkin, can be fair, even though he made campaign contributions to Hastert in decades past. Durkin said he will get himself off the case if that’s what the litigants want, but Kling does not expect either side to request that.
Neither Hastert nor his lawyers nor prosecutors made any comments to the press before or after Tuesday’s arraignment in federal court in Chicago.