CHICAGO — Dennis Hastert’s defense: It was just a groin rub.
If the former wrestling coach who went on to become the longest-serving Republican speaker of the House “brushed” the genitals of a student in 1974, it may not constitute sexual misconduct, Hastert’s defense team contends — and besides, he says he doesn’t remember.
Regardless, Hastert “deeply regrets that the episode occurred,” his attorneys said in a filing unsealed by a federal judge Wednesday as part of the sentencing phase of a trial over Hastert’s illegal structuring of cash withdrawals to pay $3.5 million in hush money to the ex-student.
“In our view,” Hastert’s defense team writes, “the incident with Individual A remains ambiguous.”
Individual A told investigators with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Internal Revenue Service, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office that he “was not sure if” Hastert touched or rubbed his genitals some 42 years ago. What he did remember is this: He had a groin pull, almost surely as a result of competition, and Hastert, as coach and trainer, was there to help. In a motel room on a wrestling trip, Hastert had Individual A remove his underwear, the Chicago Tribune reported, and massaged him.
“We are not so sure the episode qualifies as misconduct, especially for a coach and trainer forty-two years ago,” Hastert’s attorneys wrote. “Regardless of the characterization, Dennis deeply regrets that the episode occurred.”
Following “the episode,” Hastert massaged the young man’s back and “slept in the same bed,” according to the Tribune.
The information released is part of Hastert’s defense team’s response to a pre-sentencing report put together by the U.S. Attorney’s Office. The report calls for harsh punishment for Hastert on the grounds that he obstructed the investigation by the FBI and IRS into his structuring of bank withdrawals to pay off Individual A.
Hastert’s defense responded by saying that Hastert’s previous denial of sexual misconduct against Individual A was made by his former lawyer, not by Hastert himself.
“Mr. Hastert’s denial (in a February 2015 interview with investigators) that he had had inappropriate sexual conduct with any team member, and his indication that he believed Individual A would try to destroy him by making the false story public represented an opinion genuinely held by Mr. Hastert’s then-counsel.”
So Hastert denied to investigators he had molested young boys while a teacher at Yorkville High School, but that opinion was not his but his attorney’s at the time.
This quasi-denial, Hastert’s current defense team argues, has nothing to do with the federal government’s investigation into illegally structured withdrawals.
Out of the other side of the mouth, Hastert’s defense team argues that a reduction in sentencing power should be applied on grounds that he has accepted responsibility for his misdeeds.
“He has done this through his guilty plea, his public acknowledgment of guilt in open court, his cooperation with the presentence investigation, and his declaration of remorse and regret,” after reading Individual A’s version of events and the sentencing memorandum that accompanied them.
Hastert pleaded guilty in October to illegally structuring cash withdrawals he made to pay Individual A. Beginning in June 2010, Hastert made 15 withdrawals of $50,000 to give to Individual A. In April 2012, bank officials warned Hastert that all withdrawals over $10,000 must be reported to federal regulators. After the warning, Hastert made 106 withdrawals in increments of less than $10,000.
When federal agents asked Hastert about the large withdrawals last year, he claimed he was being extorted by a former student who said he sexually abused him decades ago. However, the agents reportedly listened to phone calls between Hastert and Individual A and learned there was no shakedown, just a cover-up.
Hastert’s sentencing trial will be held on April 27. While he cannot be prosecuted for sexual abuse thanks to the statute of limitations, the judge said he will take the accusations by Individual A and Hastert’s lying to FBI agents into account. Prosecutors said Individual D and the sister of another alleged victim will also testify.