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Lawyers for Hastert victim to go to federal court for help in civil case over hush money

‘It’s safe to say … he may change his story,’ victim’s attorney says

Former House Speaker Dennis Hastert departs the federal courthouse Wednesday, April 27, 2016, in Chicago, after his sentencing on federal banking charges which he pled guilty. (AP File Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
Former House Speaker Dennis Hastert departs the federal courthouse Wednesday, April 27, 2016, in Chicago, after his sentencing on federal banking charges.
(AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

The legal battle over the hush-money deal that led to Dennis Hastert’s downfall will soon return to the federal courtroom where the former U.S. House speaker likely endured his most difficult day, an attorney said Friday.

That’s because, with a civil trial potentially looming in Kendall County Circuit Court, the lawyer for one of Hastert’s victims now fears the once-powerful politician will take the stand in the far west suburban courtroom and deny the sexual abuse he earlier admitted to in federal court.

Hastert made such denials in a deposition last year, according to a heavily redacted court filing and comments by attorneys in a Kendall County courtroom Friday.

Kendall County Judge Robert Pilmer denied Friday a request by Kristi Browne, the victim’s attorney, to ease an order so she could take that full deposition to federal prosecutors, probation officials and U.S. District Judge Thomas Durkin in order to obtain records she could use to impeach Hastert on the witness stand at trial.

However, Browne said she still planned to go to Durkin — without the deposition — and ask the judge for the records.

“I think it’s safe to say that I believe he may change his story from what was in the plea agreement and his written statement at sentencing,” Browne told reporters after court.

Browne is hoping Durkin will give her access to additional documents she can use to impeach Hastert’s potential upcoming testimony.

No matter what happens, it’s unlikely that Hastert himself will have to return to federal court on that matter.

Hastert’s victim has sued Hastert for $1.8 million he says Hastert still owes him from their unwritten hush-money deal. An order by Pilmer earlier this week raised the odds of a trial in the civil case, unless attorneys can reach a last-minute settlement.

“As far as I know it’s going to trial in November,” Browne said.

In addition, Browne has also said she feels an ethical obligation to report potential perjury by Hastert.

Durkin in 2016 sentenced Hastert to 15 months in prison for a financial crime revolving around Hastert’s sexual abuse of Browne’s client decades ago. The judge famously called Hastert a “serial child molester.”

Hastert admitted sexually abusing young boys during that hearing. And in a plea agreement, Hastert admitted he agreed in 2010 to give $3.5 million to Browne’s client after he had been confronted about “past misconduct” against that individual.

That person is referred to in the lawsuit only as “James Doe.” In the criminal case, he was referred to as “Individual A.”

Now, in the redacted motion filed earlier this week, Browne referred first to her client’s molestation by Hastert, then to a 2017 comment by the judge that the abuse would be something Hastert would be “hard pressed to deny,” and finally to Hastert’s “surprising disavowal of his past sworn statements.”

Browne also accused Hastert of using attorney-client privilege and an order governing public release of the deposition “as a sword rather than a shield to cover-up his wrong doing that even this Court believed could not possibly be put in question.”

“I didn’t imagine that I’d be in this position, where [Hastert’s] going to influence the jury by basically denying anything ever happened,” Browne told the judge in court Friday.

Hastert’s lawyer, John Ellis, objected to Browne’s request in court, noting the deposition occurred a year ago. He declined to speak to reporters after Friday’s hearing.

After Hastert agreed in 2010 to pay Browne’s client $3.5 million in installments, his suspicious bank withdrawals caught the attention of federal investigators. The FBI confronted him before he could make good on the deal. He had paid $1.7 million to the victim.

Federal prosecutors charged Hastert in 2015 with financial structuring and lying to the FBI. His victim then sued in 2016 for the remaining $1.8 million in hush money.

When he refused to decide the case without a trial in a written order earlier this week, Pilmer pointed to the victim’s decision to disclose his hush-money deal with Hastert to family and friends, the significance of which needs to be decided at trial.

“He needed to keep it secret,” Pilmer wrote. “He breached that obligation by continuing to discuss it with his family members, as well as with a friend from high school.”