On Tuesday, indicted former Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert pleaded not guilty to all charges against him, meaning his legal drama figures to continue. Once a highly respected member of the House Republicans, his afternoon appearance at a Chicago courthouse made headlines — according to The New York Times, it was his first sighting in public since the charges were announced, a low-profile approach which might have as much to do with the lurid allegations about his past the case has raised as the indictment itself.
As such, it's important to be clear and informed about what exactly Hastert has, and has not, been charged with. After all, precision is of the utmost importance when following a case like this — there are a lot of shocking headlines rolling out about this scandal, and it's sometimes easy to confuse one of them with another.
So, here are the basic facts: Hastert stands accused of structuring a system of payouts to a hitherto unnamed person — referred to in the indictment as "Individual A" — in exchange for that individual not revealing damaging information about misconduct in the former Speaker's past. Hastert is alleged to have agreed to pay $3.5 million to this person, to have made good on $1.7 million of that, and to have lied to FBI investigators about it.
What's dominated headlines about the story, however, are the reported details of what Hastert was allegedly paying to keep secret. According to CNN, a federal law enforcement source told them that the payouts related to "allegations of sexual abuse" dating back to when Hastert was a teacher and wrestling coach at Yorkville High School in Illinois, where he worked from 1965 to 1981. He ran and won a seat in the Illinois House of Representatives that same year, the start of a political career which saw him ascend to Speaker of the House in 1999.
But, however much controversy and coverage the sexual abuse allegations have garnered, that is not why Hastert is on trial. Rather, the charges relate only to his alleged attempts to prevent the story from going public. As The New York Times details, sexual abuse charges would typically be filed on the state level, not federally, and given how far back the allegations go — Hastert left Yorkville High 34 years ago — the statute of limitations likely precludes him from suffering any legal repercussion in that direction.
Hastert, for his part, has not spoken out on any of the allegations — quite the contrary, in fact, he's been in virtual radio silence on the matter — although his not guilty plea makes it clear that he plans to fight. According to NBC News, he's hired prominent Washington attorney Thomas Green, a veteran of seismic political scandals like Iran-Contra and Watergate, to lead his defense.
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