Fallout spreads after Madigan confidant’s email on ‘rape,’ ghost payrollers rocks political landscape
Speaker Madigan’s refusal to have a House committee probe the matter prompted a feisty response from an aide to a top Republican: ‘We did not realize that ghost payrolling was too sensitive of a topic . . .’
State House Speaker Mike Madigan on Thursday said he won’t convene a special committee to investigate an alleged cover-up of an unspecified “rape” and ghost payrollers — incidents mentioned in an email between Madigan confidant Mike McClain and members of Gov. Pat Quinn’s administration in 2012 — because of the “sensitivity of the matter.”
Madigan’s refusal was the latest fallout over not only the explosive email, first disclosed by WBEZ this week, but also over a sweeping federal investigation involving the speaker and people close to him.
It’s been almost a year since the Chicago Sun-Times revealed that the FBI had secretly recorded Madigan in 2014 trying to get business for his private law firm from a developer.
Since that report, the Sun-Times and other news organizations have disclosed how federal investigators have been examining connections between lobbyists close to Madigan, including McClain, and the utility ComEd. Neither Madigan nor McClain have been charged with any wrongdoing.
It’s unclear if the email is connected to any activity by authorities. The WBEZ report on Tuesday revealed McClain sent the email to two senior Quinn aides in a bid to win leniency for a worker in a disciplinary case. In it, McClain argued the man “has kept his mouth shut on Jones’ ghost workers, the rape in Champaign and other items.”
“He is loyal to the Administration,” McClain wrote.
McClain: Feds have asked me to cooperate
Tracked down on Thursday outside a Chicago restaurant by WBEZ reporters, McClain said that federal authorities have asked him to cooperate in their investigation.
“Oh, they’ve asked,” McClain said. “I’ll just say they’ve asked.”
Asked if it would be difficult to betray the longtime speaker, McClain replied, “It would be hard to betray myself.”
McClain’s comments came as Madigan refused state House Republican Leader Jim Durkin’s request for the Democratic speaker to convene a House committee to launch an independent inquiry into McClain email.
In his refusal, Madigan said he discussed the situation with Gov. J.B. Pritzker.
“I spoke with the Governor and he confirmed the matter was referred to the appropriate authorities,” Madigan wrote to Durkin on Thursday. “Recognizing the sensitivity of the matter for any potential survivors, any investigation should be handled by the appropriate investigative entities without interference by the General Assembly.”
Madigan’s refusal sparked a feisty response from Durkin.
“We did not realize that ghost payrolling was too sensitive of a topic for the committee to investigate on behalf of Illinois taxpayers,” Durkin spokeswoman Eleni Demertzis said in a statement.
Gov: No other evidence
At a South Side event, Pritzker told reporters that his administration had no other evidence of a “rape in Champaign” other than the McClain email. Asked how his administration would have handled such an email, Pritzker said he would have expected his staff to go directly to the state’s general counsel.
Asked about his own efforts to try to get to the bottom of the matter, Pritzker repeatedly said he had no investigative authority as governor, arguing the appropriate office is investigating the email: the Office of the Executive Inspector General.
“I want to do what I did, which is turn it over to someone who can actually go do an investigation. Even members of the House and the Senate can’t go knock on people’s doors and you know, get a subpoena or whatever in short order, get an answer the way that an investigative body can,” Pritzker said.
The governor’s office reiterated that later, saying in a statement “there are no circumstances where it would be appropriate for the Governor to start having conversations about possible crimes when they have been referred to the proper authorities.”
Senate Republican Leader Bill Brady sent a letter Thursday to the head of the Illinois State Police, calling for a “full and thorough investigation” of any rape and ghost payrolling, arguing “these allegations must be investigated.”
Mum’s the word
Despite the negative headlines and a federal investigation, Madigan has been mum about his relationship with McClain.
Asked whether Madigan should publicly disclose his current relationship with the controversial former lobbyist, Pritzker said he’d like to know “whether there’s any involvement.”
“I think it is appropriate for us to understand, you know, if there’s somebody who’s done wrongdoing. And I don’t know. We all have read your stories and others about the potential wrongdoings, but no indictments have been landed on that,” Pritzker said. “I would like to know whether there’s any involvement, but again, you have to get some facts about what crimes are actually being alleged here, specifically, in order to be able to ask appropriate questions about it.”
The email in question was about a state employee who worked as an administrator at the Illinois Department of Human Services facility in Downstate Rushville. It was sent to Quinn’s legislative affairs liaison and Quinn’s then chief of staff.
The employee also worked as a paid consultant to Pritzker’s gubernatorial campaign and most recently served as a consultant for correctional training revisions.
Pritzker’s office on Tuesday released the emails to the Sun-Times after the WBEZ story was posted online. Quinn has told WBEZ he knew nothing of the incidents McClain described.
No other details were disclosed about the alleged rape referenced in the email or the identity of “Jones” in the mention of the ghost payrollers.