Guilty plea expected Wednesday in Hastert hush money case

CHICAGO (AP) — Former House Speaker Dennis Hastert is scheduled to step before a federal judge Wednesday to change his plea to guilty in a hush-money case that alleges he agreed to pay someone $3.5 million to hide claims of past misconduct by the Illinois Republican.

The hearing in Chicago will be Hastert’s first court appearance since June, when he pleaded not guilty to violating banking law and lying to FBI investigators. His change of plea is part of a deal with prosecutors.

The Associated Press and other media, citing anonymous sources, have reported that the payments were meant to conceal claims of sexual misconduct decades ago.

An overview of the case and what happens next:

Q: What happens Wednesday?

A: Before Hastert changes his plea, prosecutors will state what he is pleading guilty to and recommend a sentence. Judge Thomas M. Durkin will also ask Hastert if he understands the consequences of pleading guilty. Judges sometimes sentence defendants the same day, but it’s more likely that Durkin will set a sentencing date for later this year.

Q: What are the terms of the plea deal?

A: That won’t be public until Wednesday’s hearing. The two counts each carry up to five years in prison. Legal experts have said Hastert will probably serve six months to two years.

Q: Why is he pleading guilty?

A: Pleading guilty allows Hastert to avoid a trial that could have divulged embarrassing secrets he presumably wanted to keep under wraps. Defendants who plead guilty also tend to receive lighter sentences than those who put the government through a costly trial.

Q: Could the judge reject the plea deal?

A: It’s possible but unlikely. The judge would have reviewed the agreement days before the hearing. If he had serious concerns, the hearing would probably have been delayed.

Q: What’s the basic allegation?

A: The May 28 indictment said Hastert agreed in 2010 to pay $3.5 million to someone referred to only as “Individual A” to “compensate for and conceal” Hastert’s “prior misconduct” against Individual A. In all, Hastert allegedly paid more than $1.7 million to the person, sometimes in lump sums of $100,000 cash. The indictment said the payments stopped after FBI agents first questioned Hastert in December 2014.

Q: Does the indictment have details about the misconduct?

A: No, but it offers a few hints. It notes in the first sentence that Hastert was a high school teacher and coach from 1965 to 1981 in Yorkville, west of Chicago, strongly suggesting that the alleged payoffs are tied to that period of his life.

Q: Has more been learned outside of the indictment?

A: Not much, aside from the media reports that the payments were meant to conceal claims of sexual misconduct. Neither prosecutors nor Hastert’s lawyers have shed any additional light on the allegations.