CHICAGO – The federal judge assigned to the case against Dennis Hastert will continue to preside over it after disclosing connections to the former U.S. House Speaker and several attorneys, including contributions he made to the Illinois Republican’s campaign.
U.S. District Judge Thomas M. Durkin said during Hastert’s Tuesday arraignment that he believed he can be impartial but lawyers could decide whether he should be replaced. On Thursday, prosecutors and lawyers for Hastert filed paperwork that they are willing to have Durkin remain on the case.
Durkin donated $500 in 2002 and $1,000 in 2004 to Hastert’s campaign, though he said to the best of his knowledge the two men have never met.
Durkin also acknowledged that before he became a judge he worked in private practice with Hastert’s son, Ethan. He described their relationship as “friendly business colleagues” and said he doesn’t consider the younger Hastert a personal friend.
The judge also worked with one of Hastert’s defense attorneys who is a former assistant U.S. attorney and with the two prosecutors when he was employed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Chicago. He also said his brother is the Republican leader of the Illinois House, but is not a friend of Hastert.
Durkin said he sent an email to a Hastert staffer in the mid-1990s expressing interest in a seat on the federal bench, but that he didn’t hear back. He was recommended for his judgeship through a process set up by U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, a Democrat.
Hastert is accused of agreeing to pay $3.5 million to keep past misconduct secret.
The 73-year-old former high school teacher and wrestling coach pleaded not guilty on Tuesday to charges of violating banking laws by withdrawing hundreds of thousands of dollars in smaller amounts to evade federal laws and of lying to the FBI when questioned about it.
A person familiar with the allegations told The Associated Press that the payments were intended to conceal claims of sexual misconduct from decades ago. The person spoke to the AP on the condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing.
A spokeswoman for Sidley Austin, the law firm representing Hastert, declined to comment on the case Thursday.
Associated Press Writer Eric Tucker in Washington, D.C., contributed to this report.