Former House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert Indicted By Federal Grand Jury

Former House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert Indicted By Federal Grand Jury

9:01pm May 28, 2015

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A bombshell of an indictment was announced late today by the U.S. attorney in Chicago. Former House Speaker Dennis Hastert is charged with bank fraud. Hastert is the longest serving Republican House speaker in history, holding the post after Newt Gingrich stepped down in 1999. Hastert represented an Illinois congressional district west of Chicago for two decades, and joining us now from Chicago with more on this story is NPR's David Schaper. And, David, first of all, explain the indictment. Tell us more about the charges.

DAVID SCHAPER, BYLINE: Well, the U.S. attorney in Chicago charges J. Dennis Hastert with improperly structuring cash withdrawals from bank accounts to evade federal reporting requirements and then lying about that to the FBI. He allegedly withdrew a total of approximately $1.7 million from various bank accounts between 2010 until last year. And he allegedly paid that money to someone who was referred to in the indictment as individual A. One thing we do want to make clear though is that these charges are not related to anything he did or may have done in office.

SIEGEL: Well, what do we know about individual A, if anything?

SCHAPER: Well, that person is not named, so we don't know who he or she may be yet, but according to the indictment, Hastert had agreed to pay that individual $3.5 million in total. And it's kind of being portrayed as hush money in order to compensate for and conceal his prior misconduct against that individual - individual A. The indictment says that Hastert has known individual A for most of that individual's life. The indictment also notes that prior to his political career, Hastert worked as a high school teacher and wrestling coach in Yorkville, Ill., which is west of Chicago. Whether there's a connection to that position is not stated in the indictment.

SIEGEL: Now, Dennis Hastert has always been popular in his home state, especially with Republicans. What's the reaction there?

SCHAPER: Well, there's a lot of shock and disbelief, really, on both sides of the aisle. Despite the partisan nature of his job, Hastert worked well with members of the Illinois delegation for both parties and with Chicago's then Democratic Mayor Richard Daley. Former Republican Governor Jim Edgar, who was governor during most of the 1990s and was fairly close to Hastert, sums up the feelings of many in the GOP this way.

JIM EDGAR: My first is shock. I mean, Denny Hastert would be the last person I would think that would be indicted. I mean, I've always known him to be a person of highest integrity; you know, committed to the public welfare. I just - I'm shocked. I just find it hard to believe.

SCHAPER: So while there are a lot of jaws dropped at this stunning news here in Illinois political circles, we have not heard any comment yet from Hastert himself nor from his attorneys. And - but it is a strange way to end what had been a very prominent and successful political career.

SIEGEL: That's NPR's David Schaper in Chicago on the news today of the indictment of former Republican Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert. David, thanks.

SCHAPER: Thank you, Robert. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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