Our Pledge To You

News

Dennis Hastert feels ‘deep regret’ but asks judge for probation

Surrounded by U.S. Marshals, former Republican Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert leaves the Dirksen Federal Courthouse last October. | Scott Olson/Getty Images

Ten months after the feds shattered Dennis Hastert’s legacy with a devastating indictment, lawyers for the once-powerful Republican said he is “deeply sorry,” “overwhelmed by the guilt he feels,” and “prepared to accept the consequences.”

Then they asked a judge not to send the former U.S. House speaker to prison.

“Despite his mistakes in judgment and his transgressions, for which he is profoundly sorry, we implore this court, in imposing sentence, to consider the entirety of Mr. Hastert’s life,” Thomas Green, one of Hastert’s lawyers, wrote in a highly anticipated court filing Wednesday that sought probation.  

Hastert’s legal team made the plea for mercy in a nine-page sentencing memo, noting Hastert’s “fall from grace has been swift and devastating.” It also, for the first time, both apologized for Hastert’s conduct and described the calamitous effect of his prosecution on the former speaker, his family and his reputation.      

However, references to “unfortunate and harmful incidents,” “transgressions” and “misconduct” are as close as Hastert’s lawyers came to acknowledging the alleged sexual abuse underlying his case. 

Hastert, 74, pleaded guilty to a financial crime in October, striking a deal with prosecutors that will likely land him a sentence of no more than six months. Prosecutors have yet to file their sentencing recommendation, which is due Friday.

Once second in line to the presidency, Hastert is set to be sentenced April 27. His lawyers wrote in their memo that it “will be the most difficult day in Mr. Hastert’s life.”

“He will stand before the court having deteriorated both physically and emotionally, undoubtedly in part due to public shaming and humiliation of an unprecedented degree,” Green wrote.

Green pointed to Hastert’s lifetime of public service, the shame already borne by Hastert and his family, and Hastert’s ailing health.

“Mr. Hastert has enriched the lives of so many over his lifetime, including his family, his employees, his students, his mentees, his constituents, and others who he has met along the way,” Green wrote.

He wrote that Hastert is “humbled and extremely grateful to his family for their continued support.” However, Hastert has been “stung” by public repudiations such as the removal of his portrait from the U.S. Capitol.

“Many of Mr. Hastert’s friends and colleagues have cut off contact with him due to the public allegations, which Mr. Hastert understands, but the loss of their friendship nonetheless is additional cause for his despair,” Green wrote. “Mr. Hastert knows that the days of him being welcomed in the small towns he served all of his life are gone forever.”

Hastert is also “tormented by the thought that this disgrace will follow his family members who are guilty of nothing more than sharing his last name,” Green wrote. The former speaker is particularly concerned for his wife.

The media hounded the couple after Hastert’s indictment, and his lawyers say the press “flooded their driveway,” navigated a forest preserve to take photos through their windows and followed them to Wisconsin.

Meanwhile, lawyers repeated the claim that Hastert “nearly died” in the days after his guilty plea, as he suffered from a severe form of sepsis and a small stroke.

“Mr. Hastert feels deep regret and remorse for his actions decades ago and is prepared to accept the consequences. He understands, accepts, and admits that he violated the law.”

The case against Hastert revolves around the so-called “Individual A,” whose identity has yet to be revealed. Hastert promised to pay $3.5 million to “Individual A” to cover up sexual misconduct with the former male student, sources have told the Chicago Sun-Times.

Hastert admitted in October he illegally withdrew a total of $952,000 from the bank in increments that would avoid raising red flags, and he acknowledged he lied to the FBI. “Individual A” ultimately collected $1.7 million.

Meanwhile, the secrecy around Hastert’s case only deepened recently when U.S. District Judge Thomas M. Durkin began holding hearings in the case without notice to the public. A partial transcript of one hearing revealed the existence of an “Individual D,” who may testify against Hastert.

The judge also used that March 22 hearing to acknowledge, for the first time on the record, the sexual abuse allegations at the heart of the case.

“Let’s not beat around the bush,” Durkin said. “If Individual D wants to come in and talk about being a victim of sexual abuse, he’s entitled to do so because that informs my decision about the history and characteristics of the defendant. It’s that simple.”