CHICAGO — Former House Speaker Dennis Hastert will be arraigned on Thursday at federal district court in Chicago in front of a judge who has in the past donated to Hastert’s political campaigns.
Thursday could be the first public appearance by Hastert since the government last week announced the case against him for evading bank regulations and lying to the FBI.
The government alleges Hastert arranged to pay $3.5 million to an unnamed individual in an effort to keep quiet a “prior misconduct,” according to the indictment filed last week. CNN sources say Hastert was paying a former student to keep quiet about allegations of sexual abuse from the time when Hastert was a teacher and wrestling coach in Illinois.
The man who will hear the case, U.S. District Judge Thomas Durkin, contributed to Hastert’s re-election campaigns in 2002 and 2004, federal election records show, before he was appointed to the bench. Durkin served as a federal prosecutor before 1993 when he joined Mayer Brown, a law firm that now employs Hastert’s son, Ethan.
While at Mayer Brown, Durkin gave $500 to Hastert’s campaign in 2002 and $1,000 to the campaign in 2004. Those donations were first reported by Politico.
Durkin has donated to other Republican candidates, but it was President Barack Obama, a Democrat, who named him to the federal judgeship in May 2012.
William Hodes, a former law professor at Indiana University who advises on issues in judicial ethics, said he didn’t believe Durkin was tainted by between minor, one-decade-ago donations to a congressman.
“It was a long, long time before he knew he was going to be presiding over any trial,” said Hodes.
He speculated that Durkin may have been trying to curry favor with legislators ahead of an appointment, but it is typically a state’s U.S. senators, not their congressmen, who give the endorsement to the White House ahead of a federal nomination.
“Maybe he was trying to help grease the skids onto the bench, but that wouldn’t work because it was a long time ago,” Hodes said.