CHICAGO (AP) — Allegations of past sexual misconduct by former U.S. Speaker Dennis Hastert present a quandary for the defense in the high-profile hush-money case, an attorney told a federal judge Tuesday, saying the claims are "an 800-pound gorilla" in the room.
During a status hearing in Chicago, defense attorney Thomas C. Green blamed "government leaks" for speculation that swirled around the 73-year-old Republican since he was indicted in late May.
"The indictment has effectively been amended by leaks from the government," Green said. "(It) is now an 800-pound gorilla in this case."
The indictment says Hastert agreed to pay $3.5 million to someone identified only as "Individual A" to hide past misconduct; the document offers no detail and does not say the misconduct was sexual in nature. But the Associated Press and other media outlets, citing anonymous sources, have reported the payments were intended to conceal claims of sexual misconduct decades ago.
The indictment also suggests someone may have been extorting Hastert, but it doesn't elaborate.
Hastert, who is free on bond, was not required to attend the hearing and wasn't present. He lives west of Chicago near Yorkville, where he coached high school wrestling and taught until 1981. He has pleaded not guilty to structuring bank withdrawals to avoid reporting rules and to lying to the FBI.
Green, a nationally prominent attorney based in Washington, D.C., also said he intends to file motions asking the court to dismiss the indictment.
As he prepares for trial, Green told the judge he's stumped about whether to ignore the sexual misconduct allegations.
"(Do I) wrestle with the gorilla? Do I not wrestle with the gorilla?" he said.
It's unclear if claims not in the indictment would have any relevance at a trial, during which prosecutors would likely focus narrowly on mundane aspects of U.S. banking law. But they could potentially be raised in testimony regarding motive.
Judge Thomas M. Durkin has barred attorneys or prosecutors from publicly discussing evidence. But he cautioned Green that if he raises any new issues in motions to toss the charges, he may be obliged to include those in his public ruling.
"The public has a right to know how I reach a decision," he said.
Green didn't speak to reporters after the hearing. Prosecutors' spokesman Joseph Fitzpatrick later declined to comment about Green's contentions regarding leaks.
The defense attorney also said Tuesday that he may ask permission to subpoena records from banks where Hastert allegedly withdrew a total of $1.7 million from 2010 to 2014 to pay Individual A.
The indictment says Hastert started with $50,000 increments, but when that invited scrutiny, he began taking cash out in increments just under $10,000 to skirt the reporting laws. Those laws were designed primarily to thwart money laundering by underworld figures.
Durkin several times asked Green if he thought the case would go to trial.
"As of now, we are gearing up for trial," said Green, who suggested that he hoped his motions to dismiss would make that question moot.
A plea deal could also short-circuit a trial, but that possibility hasn't come up in filings or in court. The next status hearing is Oct. 20.
Associated Press writer Eric Tucker in Washington, D.C., contributed to this report.