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Former Chicago inspector general clears Rahm Emanuel of wrongdoing in Laquan McDonald shooting

The letter from Joe Ferguson comes as Emanuel is waiting for the Senate to confirm him as the next U.S. Ambassador to Japan.

Rahm Emanuel Testifies At His Confirmation Hearing on Capitol Hill
Former Mayor Rahm Emanuel listens during a confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Oct. 20.
Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

As ex-Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel waits for a confirmation vote to be U.S. ambassador to Japan, former Chicago Inspector General Joe Ferguson has cleared Emanuel of wrongdoing in his handling of the Laquan McDonald police shooting videos.

Emanuel’s return to government has “resurrected questions” about Emanuel’s responsibility for the Chicago Police Department and whether “he engaged in a ‘cover-up’ of the shooting by keeping the police body-worn camera videos from the public,” Ferguson said in a letter to Senate Foreign Relations Committee chair Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J. The Chicago Sun-Times obtained a copy of the letter.

Ferguson wrote that while the questions are “appropriate” by those opposing his nomination, “they are not fair, because they are not grounded in fact, because the facts simply do not exist.”

“I know. I was the inspector general for the city of Chicago leading the office which investigated the city’s handling of the aftermath of the McDonald murder.”

The Senate panel voted last month to send Emanuel’s nomination to the full Senate.

The shooting of a Black teen by a white Chicago police officer has been the centerpiece of complaints by Democratic progressives over President Joe Biden tapping Emanuel for an ambassadorship.

During Emanuel’s confirmation hearing, only Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., grilled the former mayor about the shooting, which is the major stain on Emanuel’s two terms at City Hall.

Ferguson, first appointed in 2009 by former Mayor Richard M. Daley, had at times a frosty relationship with Emanuel.

A former federal prosecutor who served with Mayor Lori Lightfoot in the U.S. attorney’s office, Ferguson’s term ended on Oct. 15. He departed City Hall when it was clear Lightfoot was not going to reappoint him.

Ferguson’s letter to Menendez is dated Oct. 21, the day after Emanuel’s Senate confirmation hearing and less than a week after Ferguson left office.

“My office’s comprehensive investigation did not reveal any evidence that would support the lingering surmises and accusations of a ‘cover-up’ orchestrated out of City Hall. None,” Ferguson wrote, adding, “Decisions made about the non-or-delayed disclosure of the body-worn camera videos at the time were in fact the longstanding policy and practice of the city of Chicago and its Law Department.”

While those policies as existed at the time “may fairly be questioned,” there is “a complete absence of factual basis to support the claim that Mayor Emanuel was involved directly or indirectly in a ‘cover-up’ of the McDonald shooting videos.”

Merkley and Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., were the only two senators on the Foreign Relations Committee to oppose Emanuel’s nomination.

Biden nominated Emanuel for the Japan post in August over the objections of progressives against Emanuel over the McDonald shooting and for his centrist politics.

There is no date set for Emanuel’s confirmation vote and it has nothing to do with protests from progressives.

Two Republicans, Ted Cruz of Texas and Josh Hawley of Missouri, are blocking most ambassador nominations for reasons having nothing to do with Emanuel.

Emanuel has enough GOP Senate support to win confirmation even if several Democrats vote no.

Sen. Todd Young, R-Ind., speaking about the GOP blockade on diplomatic nominations, said Thursday on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” the Senate needs to confirm Nick Burns as ambassador to China “immediately,” and we also need to make sure that we get Rahm Emanuel confirmed to the ambassador spot in Japan.”

Jeff Cohen, founder of RootsAction.org, leading a campaign against Emanuel, said he was “unimpressed” with Ferguson’s letter.

“If Emanuel and Ferguson once had a “frosty” relationship, it’s obviously thawed. This was a love letter, skirting the key questions — and lavishing praise on Emanuel for actions taken only after a judge ordered the video’s release,” he said.

The spotlight on Emanuel and the McDonald shooting intensified since the Oct. 20 hearing was, by coincidence, on the seventh anniversary of McDonald’s murder.

At the hearing, Emanuel called the murder of the 17-year-old a “grave tragedy” and said he failed to realize the lack of trust between City Hall and Chicago’s Black residents.

“I made a number of changes that dealt with oversight, accountability,” he said. “And it is clear to me the changes were inadequate to the level of distrust. They were on the best marginal; I thought I was addressing the issue, and I clearly missed the level of distrust and skepticism that existed, and that’s on me,” Emanuel said.

Not displaying properly? Read Ferguson’s letter