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Feds inch closer to Madigan with indictment of confidant, but can they make the leap?

Legal experts have said prosecutors would need a “quid pro quo” to charge the House speaker with bribery. Such an arrangement is not detailed in Wednesday’s indictment.

House Speaker Mike Madigan listens to debate during a session of the Illinois House of Representatives at the Bank of Springfield Center in May. 
Justin L. Fowler/The State Journal-Register via AP file

The bombshell indictment this week against members of House Speaker Michael Madigan’s inner circle makes one thing clear, if it weren’t already: the feds have their sights set on the speaker.

But for reasons known only to federal prosecutors — and they’re not talking — the powerful Southwest Side Democrat remains the uncharged “Public Official A” in the 50-page indictment filed Wednesday that levels bribery charges at Madigan confidant Michael McClain, former ComEd CEO Anne Pramaggiore, ex-ComEd lobbyist John Hooker and onetime City Club President Jay Doherty.

All four could face significant prison time. Meanwhile, Madigan continues to deny wrongdoing.

Prosecutors may believe they don’t have enough evidence to bring charges against Madigan yet. Or they may want to pile on even more evidence before presenting a case against Madigan, who has deep pockets and is sure to field first-class criminal defense attorneys if charged.

There has been a steady drumbeat of public corruption cases this year from the Dirksen Federal Building, and the feds rarely show all of their cards.

But for now, the only word from U.S. Attorney John Lausch’s office is that the investigation “remains ongoing.”

The latest indictment alleges that McClain, Pramaggiore, Hooker and Doherty schemed to reward Madigan’s allies with contracts, jobs and money to influence the speaker. If that happened, Madigan insists he wasn’t aware of it, and he said anyone who tried to influence him “would have failed miserably.” Echoing earlier statements, he said that “helping people find jobs is not a crime.”

He also said Thursday, “if there was credible evidence that I had engaged in criminal misconduct, which I most certainly did not, I would be charged with a crime.”

But the ComEd prosecution has hardly left Madigan unscathed. Rather, enough state House Democrats have said they won’t be voting for Madigan as speaker to effectively block him from another term in that seat. Gov. J.B. Pritzker also said Madigan should “be willing to stand in front of the press” and answer questions if he wants to continue as speaker.

The political weakening of Madigan could prove helpful to prosecutors, who have already lined up a bevy of cooperators in the last few years, including former Ald. Daniel Solis and former state Sen. Martin Sandoval, to name a few. As for the four charged Wednesday, their lawyers have issued combative statements denying the accusations. Some have even accused Lausch’s office of stretching the law.

Hooker’s attorney, Michael Monico, on Thursday accused the feds of “a misuse of prosecutorial power.”

“It is unfortunate that in its zeal to prosecute another, the government has run roughshod over the life of a distinguished and inspiring role model like Mr. Hooker,” Monico said in a statement.

A video arraignment for all four defendants has been set for Dec. 2.

Legal experts have said prosecutors would need a “quid pro quo” to charge Madigan with bribery. Such an arrangement isn’t spelled out in Wednesday’s indictment. Rather, it echoes the details revealed when prosecutors charged ComEd with bribery in July. ComEd agreed to pay a $200 million fine — believed to be the largest criminal fine ever in Chicago’s federal court. And though it pleaded not guilty, it admitted to the allegations against it in a so-called deferred-prosecution agreement and said it would cooperate with prosecutors.

Another former ComEd executive, Fidel Marquez, also agreed to cooperate when he pleaded guilty to a related bribery conspiracy in September.

Though the latest indictment says Madigan and McClain sought jobs, contracts and money from ComEd for Madigan’s associates, it stops short of saying Madigan did so in exchange for a official act. For example, prosecutors make clear that Madigan and McClain “sought” the appointment of an individual identified by the Chicago Sun-Times as ex-McPier CEO Juan Ochoa to ComEd’s board of directors. But they separately accuse Pramaggiore of agreeing to seek that appointment “with the intent to influence and reward” Madigan.

That effort to put Ochoa on the board led to pushback from within ComEd, according to the feds. And on May 2, 2018, the indictment alleges that McClain placed a call to Madigan to tell him about it. He allegedly told Madigan that Pramaggiore had suggested finding a job that would pay the same amount as a board seat.

The indictment doesn’t say what Madigan said in response, but McClain told Pramaggiore that Madigan would appreciate it if she would “keep pressing,” the feds say.

The feds note several apparently damaging quotes in the recent indictment.

But none come from the speaker’s mouth.