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News Wrap: Dennis Hastert pleads guilty to fraud

In our news wrap Wednesday, former Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert pleaded guilty for evading federal banking laws in a hush money scheme. He said he did not want the FBI to know why he paid $3.5 million to an unnamed party. Also, the Nigerian army says it freed 338 captives held by Boko Haram.

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  • GWEN IFILL:

    The House of Representatives ratified some high-level deal-making this evening. The vote was 266 to 167 on a package aimed at heading off a government shutdown and default on the national debt — on the nation's debt. It came just a few hours after Republicans nominated Paul Ryan to be the next speaker. We will have a full report on all of this later in the broadcast.

    Former Speaker Dennis Hastert pleaded guilty today to fraud for evading federal banking laws in a hush money scheme. The 73-year-old Republican entered the plea in Chicago. He said he didn't want the FBI to know why he paid $3.5 million to an unnamed party. It's been widely reported that the money went to hide claims of sexual misconduct. Hastert will be sentenced in February.

    In Nigeria, there's word of a dramatic rescue by the country's military. The army says it freed 338 captives held by the Islamist militant group Boko Haram.

    NewsHour special correspondent Nick Schifrin is in Yola, Nigeria, and spoke with us earlier by phone.

  • NICK SCHIFRIN:

    More than 300 prisoners were released from the edge of Sambisa forest. That's in Northeastern Nigeria, where we are now, and one of Boko Haram's final strongholds.

    The Nigerian military released photos of some of those people it released. So many women and children have been taken by Boko Haram especially, forced to become wives or even suicide bombers. The Nigerian military also says it killed about 30 fighters and seized weapons and ammunition from those fighters.

    Now, in the past six or seven months, the Nigerian military has freed about 1,000 prisoners, so this isn't the first time this has happened, but it's first time it's happened on the edge of the Sambisa forest, and that is significant. That is Boko Haram's final headquarters, and really the place the Nigerian military needs to go into in order to defeat Boko Haram.

    U.S. officials now telling me there are U.S. drones flying overhead Sambisa, that intelligence being given to the Nigerian military. They will need that if they're going to meet their own deadline of defeating Boko Haram by the end of the year.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Meanwhile, African union investigators in South Sudan have laid bare accusations of war crimes, including mass killings and forced cannibalism. The A.U. report says government troops committed the atrocities against ethnic Nuer civilians in the capital, Juba, during a 22-month civil war. The two sides signed a peace agreement in August, but fighting continues.

    Iran will attend international talks aimed at ending the four-year-long conflict in Syria. State television confirms Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif will lead the Iranian delegation at tomorrow's session in Vienna, Austria. Iran has firmly backed Syrian President Bashar Assad.

    And Zarif's deputy made clear today that hasn't changed.

  • HOSSEIN AMIR-ABDOLLAHIAN, Deputy Foreign Minister, Iran (through interpreter):

    We believe that the solution in Syria is only a political solution. Americans and foreign players in Syria have no choice but to accept the realities in Syria. Mr. Bashar Assad and the Syrian government have the necessary readiness for talks with insurgents who are committed to a political path.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Secretary of State John Kerry will also attend the Vienna talks. He said today the challenge is like trying to chart — quote — "a course out of hell."

    Back in this country, a national report card shows math and reading test scores in U.S. schools are falling or stagnant. The National Assessment of Educational Progress finds only about a third of eighth graders are proficient in math and reading. While fourth graders fare slightly better — two out of five score proficient or above — there is also a continuing achievement gap between white and black students.

    An Army surveillance blimp broke loose in Maryland today, and drifted for hours before landing in Pennsylvania. It floated at 16,000 feet for a time, as fighter jets followed, and its tether dragged near the ground, snapping power lines and causing outages. The blimp sank back to earth after losing helium.

    In economic news, the Federal Reserve kept short-term interest rates at record lows. But policy-makers suggested a rate hike could finally be coming in December. Wall Street appeared to be undeterred. The Dow Jones industrial average gained 198 points to close near 17780. The Nasdaq rose 65 points, and the S&P 500 added 24.

    And Britain's Prince Harry was in the Washington area today, promoting programs to help wounded troops and veterans. He visited Fort Belvoir in Virginia with first lady Michelle Obama and second lady Jill Biden. Together, they watched wheelchair basketball players compete. Later, the prince, who served two tours in Afghanistan, met with President Obama in the Oval Office.

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