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Madigan foe: Speaker’s call for Rauner deposition part of ‘political witch hunt’

Clockwise from top left: Then House candidate Jason Gonzales in 2016. | Lou Foglia/Sun-Times; Gov. Bruce Rauner in June. | Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times; Speaker of the House Mike Madigan. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times; Then Democratic Senate candidate Blair Hull in 2003. | Scott Stewart/Sun-Times; House GOP leader Jim Durkin in February. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times; Illinois Policy Institute Chairman John Tillman in June. | AP Photo/Andrew Harnik.

Clockwise from top left: Then House candidate Jason Gonzales in 2016. | Lou Foglia/Sun-Times; Gov. Bruce Rauner in June. | Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times; Speaker of the House Mike Madigan. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times; Then Democratic Senate candidate Blair Hull in 2003. | Scott Stewart/Sun-Times; House GOP leader Jim Durkin in February. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times; Illinois Policy Institute Chairman John Tillman in June. | AP Photo/Andrew Harnik.

Gov. Bruce Rauner on Monday said he doesn’t know the man suing Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan in federal court for allegedly helping to put “sham” candidates on ballots.

But the plaintiff, Jason Gonzales, is now coming to the Republican governor’s defense, arguing against requiring depositions of Rauner and many of the governor’s GOP allies and former staffers.

Gonzales’ attorneys contend the depositions Madigan’s team are seeking concern a documentary that was highly critical of the speaker titled “Madigan: Power, Privilege, Politics,” which was released in October 2016.

A motion filed Monday by one of Gonzales’ attorneys accuses the powerful speaker of engaging in “political intelligence” in order to tarnish Rauner in the November election.

“It appears that Speaker Madigan is not interested in what the witnesses know about this case but seeks instead to engage in political intelligence about the film’s origin, perhaps even to obtain evidence for the ongoing Illinois general election campaign of November 2018 or even a future suit,” attorney Stephen Boulton wrote in the motion filed in U.S. District Court. “Defendants’ subpoenas are an improper use of this Court’s subpoena power of this Court to engage in political intelligence.”

Gonzales argues in the suit that Madigan put up two “sham” candidates with Latino names to try to split the Hispanic vote in the March 2016 Democratic primary. Madigan beat Gonzales 65.2 percent to 27.1 percent. The other two primary candidates received a combined 7.8 percent.

“Until Mr. Madigan makes specific allegations linking Gonzales to the film, allegations that will be subject to Rule 11 [sanctioning attorneys for ‘frivolous arguments’], he should have no ability to depose witnesses for his own separate political purposes,” the motion states. “Finally, Plaintiff and his attorneys should not be put to the expense and loss of time while Defendants engage in their unfounded political witch hunt.”

Madigan’s attorneys in June told U.S. District Judge Matthew Kennelly one of the defense strategies is to try to prove that Gonzales was a “closet Republican.” Gonzales has denied being a “plant of Gov. Rauner.”

Rauner on Monday told reporters he doesn’t know Gonzales and has “never spoken with him, never had an interaction with him.”

Gov. Bruce Rauner, left, in June of 2018. File Photo. | Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times; Then House candidate Jason Gonzales, right, in 2016. File Photo. | Lou Foglia/Sun-Times

Gov. Bruce Rauner, left, in June of 2018. File Photo. | Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times; Then House candidate Jason Gonzales, right, in 2016. File Photo. | Lou Foglia/Sun-Times

Still, Gonzales’ attorneys are coming to the governor’s defense, along with a Who’s Who of political operatives and former campaign and staff employees, including former Rauner administration counsel Dennis Murashko, Illinois House Republican Leader Jim Durkin, Vice President Mike Pence’s chief of staff and former Rauner campaign adviser Nick Ayers, and millionaire investor Blair Hull, a Madigan foe who spent roughly $30 million of his own fortune on a failed 2004 Democratic U.S. Senate bid.

Hull helped create the PAC Illinois United for Change, which in 2006 helped to fund ads and mailers that either helped to promote Gonzales or criticized Madigan.

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Others on the Madigan deposition list include Illinois Policy Institute CEO John Tillman and former Illinois Policy Institute head Kristina Rasmussen, who served 88 days as Rauner’s chief of staff last year. They’re also seeking depositions from former Rauner campaign managers and Austin Berg, an Illinois Policy Institute employee who wrote the documentary film.

“Defendant Madigan apparently just wants to know who was involved in making the film, using the subpoena power of this Court to obtain testimony from those he thinks had a role. That is not a proper use of this Court’s power,” Gonzales’ motion contends. “These concerns are magnified when one of the proposed deponents is the sitting Governor, a strong political opponent of Speaker Madigan with the deposition being taking in a heated election season, when there is not one allegation before the Court about the Governor.”

Cicero Town President Larry Dominick leaves the Dirksen Federal Building in 2013 after winning a case in which his older brother accused Dominick of wrongfully firing him from a town board. File photo. | Chandler West/For Sun-Times Media

Cicero Town President Larry Dominick leaves the Dirksen Federal Building in 2013 after winning a case in which his older brother accused Dominick of wrongfully firing him from a town board. File photo. | Chandler West/For Sun-Times Media

Madigan’s deposition was scheduled for July 18 but was canceled and not yet re-scheduled, according to his spokesman. Rauner’s tentative deposition was set for Sept. 6, although a firm date was never settled. His counsel said defendants could pick a date but the governor “may not be able to commit to it,” a filing said.

Gonzales attorneys are seeking to depose dozens of petition circulators, Cicero Town President Larry Dominick, former Madigan operative Kevin Quinn and his brother, Ald. Marty Quinn, among others.

A status hearing is set for Thursday.