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Hastert faces sex abuse past in hush money case

Dennis Hastert was once second-in-line for the presidency. But on Wednesday, the former speaker of the House was sentenced to 15 months behind bars for banking violations. During the hearing, Hastert admitted that he sexually abused minors decades ago. Hari Sreenivasan talks to Natasha Korecki of Politico for more on the case.

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  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    But, first, to the sentencing of former House Speaker Dennis Hastert, and the accusations of sexual abuse that became a central part of this case.

    The federal judge overseeing the proceedings, Thomas Durkin, had tough words for the man who was once second in line to the presidency. He said — quote — "Nothing is more disturbing than having serial child molester and speaker of the House in the same sentence."

    We get more now on what happened inside the courtroom today from Natasha Korecki, who covers Illinois politics and politicians for Politico.

    The trial and the sentencing were not about sexual abuse, but, really, this last phase today, it was pretty much a trial about sexual abuse. The victims came forward. He actually admitted to it?

  • NATASHA KORECKI, Politico:

    That's right.

    And when Hastert finally did go up and speak, he kind of glossed over that, the abuse part of it. He said — quote, unquote — "I regret, I'm sorry" for mistreating my athletes when I was a coach more than three decades ago.

    But the judge specifically held his feet to the fire and made him spell out each individual, asking him, did you sexually abuse individual A? And he went through the different numbers that have been laid out in the past. And, eventually, Hastert did admit to it.

    It became this very, very pointed, dramatic court hearing, where the victims were just feet away from Hastert himself, and there was a very direct confrontation there.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    You had one of the victims directly, had one of the victim's family members. And it seemed that Dennis Hastert was actually asking for support, a letter of support from one of those victims' brothers. It just is appalling.

  • NATASHA KORECKI:

    You know, that really seemed to rub the judge the wrong way, because I think Hastert, going in, his lawyers had been making, you know, this argument that all of this conduct was old. It was decades-old.

    But the judge said he was so disturbed by that specifically, that he called, you know, this — a politician well known-here in Illinois, Tom Cross, who used to be the leader of the GOP in the Illinois House. Hastert was a mentor to Tom Cross. He called him and asked him for a letter.

    Instead, the Cross family contacted federal authorities, and Scott Cross, Tom's brother, came forward and gave very pointed and very tearful, emotional testimony today. And he was really — is really the first victim that we have heard from publicly. We have heard from a deceased victim's sister who has been, you know, unrelenting in all of this. And, you know, she finally heard what she wanted to hear from Hastert today as well.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Now, the criminal proceedings on this case are done. But there's still a civil lawsuit pending?

  • NATASHA KORECKI:

    The initial transaction that got us here, the structuring count, this was involving this individual A, who we still don't know the identity of, or — it's not been reported publicly yet.

    And this individual said they had an agreement, that Hastert had agreed to pay him $3.5 million. The individual initially wanted to get a lawyer involved and so forth. Hastert paid part of the money, about almost $1 million. And this individual says, you still owe me the rest of that money, and filed a complaint in a state court.

    And that's going to be litigated. One of the little turns in that case now is that individual is trying to see if he can remain an unnamed victim. That part is going to — actually, there's a hearing tomorrow to discuss that aspect of it.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    So, what happens to Dennis Hastert now? We didn't see him led off in chains today.

  • NATASHA KORECKI:

    No, we didn't. He was wheeled out of court. His attorneys described him as frail and very ill.

    He is going to be able to self-surrender. That's very typical, actually, in federal government for white-collar crimes, so-called white-collar crimes. But he's going to report to prison. He's going to be designated to a prison. It usually takes the Bureau of Prisons 60 days or more to find a place.

    He has — the judge said he would recommend what they call a level four medical facility for him to deal with diabetes and some other ailments that he has described in detail to the judge.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    All right, Natasha Korecki of Politico joining us from Chicago, thanks so much.

  • NATASHA KORECKI:

    Thank you.

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