U.S. attorney gives go-ahead to Illinois House committee investigating Madigan
House committee hearings were paused on the first day so lawmakers could ask whether their investigation would hinder a federal corruption probe.
The U.S. attorney’s office in Chicago gave state lawmakers the O.K. Sept. 14 to continue investigating the conduct of Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan regarding a bribery scheme involving Commonwealth Edison.
State Reps. Tom Demmer, R-Dixon, and Chris Welch, D-Chicago, spoke with federal prosecutors to ask if the work by a special investigative committee would interfere with the federal government’s ongoing investigation surrounding Madigan, his allies and ComEd. The attorney’s office said there would be no problems calling Madigan or other witnesses to testify.
But there was disagreement over how ComEd’s deal with prosecutors would limit the committee. Democrats said it would restrict them a lot. Republicans said not so much.
Welch, who chairs the committee, told the Chicago Tribune they were asked to “refrain from seeking any materials or testimony related to the (ComEd deferred prosecution agreement) that is still confidential or anything in the possession of the federal government. In other words, we can call witnesses but we can’t really ask them any questions.”
House Republicans offered this version of the conversation with the U.S. Attorney’s office.
“There was no indication we have to stay within the parameters of the (deferred prosecution agreement). There was no objection to asking witnesses to testify. They didn’t want us asking for docs that a witness (mainly ComEd) would have gotten from the Feds and were not included in the DPA. It was specific to the DPA.”
The deferred prosecution agreement outlined how the utility gave Madigan’s political cronies $1.3 million in jobs and contracts to gain his support for regulatory legislation worth $150 million to ComEd. ComEd agreed to a $200 million fine and to cooperate with investigators.
House Minority Leader Jim Durkin, R-Western Springs, said during the first committee hearing Sept. 11 he had already received clearance from the attorney’s office when he initially brought the charges against Madigan to the committee. The committee voted to check for themselves again.
Durkin and his Republican colleagues submitted a voluntary witness list to the committee that included Madigan, ComEd executives, lobbyists and others implicated in the prosecution agreement. Madigan has a choice whether to testify.
Welch said the next hearing will be set once the attorney’s office submits a letter to the committee confirming the contents of the call.
Lawmakers on the committee have agreed to follow the precedent of the only other time in recent history a committee met to review the behavior of a state lawmaker. That was Derrick Smith, who was charged with bribery in 2012.
The hearings are not legal proceedings and cannot find Madigan to be legally charged or guilty of any crime. However, they can recommend discipline based on Madigan’s actions, which can include punishment as high as removal from the House. Madigan called the committee a “political stunt” and denied any wrongdoing.
State lawmakers from both parties and Democrats from across the state have called for Madigan to immediately resign his positions as House speaker and chairman of the Democratic Party of Illinois. Others, such as Gov. J.B. Pritzker, have made a milder call for him to resign if the allegations are true.
The Madigan corruption probe has complicated Pritzker’s appeal to voters for his “fair tax” on the Nov. 3 ballot. Madigan is the fifth key backer of a progressive tax to face corruption probes as voters are being asked to trust lawmakers with greater power to impose new taxes on retirees and hike taxes up to 47% on over 100,000 small businesses that create most Illinois jobs.