Pritzker calls on McClain to stop chuckling and start cooperating — with the feds

Pritkzer said the email is “emblematic of a culture that has been poisonous in Springfield for far too long.” He said covering up a crime — such as the alleged rape and ghost payrolling — and using it as a political weapon is “disgusting.”

SHARE Pritzker calls on McClain to stop chuckling and start cooperating — with the feds
Gov. J.B. Pritzker, left; Mike McClain, right. File Photos.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker, left; Mike McClain, right. File Photos.

Ted Schurter/The State Journal-Register; Illinois Secretary of State photo.

A day after ousting a department head over a controversial email by Mike McClain, Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Tuesday likened McClain’s behavior to that of a “crime syndicate” and implored the former top lobbyist and confidant to Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan to cooperate with the feds — not laugh it off with “a smug grin.”

Pritzker said he didn’t know if McClain had put in a good word when it came to recommending John Sullivan to head the Department of Agriculture, a post Sullivan was forced to leave two days ago. As a state senator for 14 years, Sullivan represented Quincy, McClain’s hometown.

The governor’s office says Pritzker asked for Sullivan’s resignation because Sullivan was aware of the 2012 email and “did not handle it appropriately.” Sullivan said he discovered a forwarded copy of the email, but that he had not read it in its entirety until now, calling the decision an “unintentional oversight.”

A WBEZ report last week revealed McClain sent the email to two senior aides to then-Gov. Pat Quinn 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.

On Tuesday, the governor said the email is “emblematic of a culture that has been poisonous in Springfield for far too long.” He said covering up a crime — such as the rape and ghost payrolling alleged in the email — and using it as a political weapon is “disgusting.”

“I expect everybody in state government and any lobbyist who has information to come forward. And if an investigator contacts someone, they should — and ask them to cooperate, they should cooperate and not to put a smug grin on their face and to laugh about not cooperating, like Mike McClain did.”

Pritzker was referring to a WBEZ interview of McClain from last week, in which McClain was asked if the feds have asked him to cooperate.

“They’ve asked,” McClain said, then laughed. “I’ll just say they asked.”

When WBEZ asked him if it would be hard to betray Madigan, McClain said, “It would be hard to betray myself.”

Asked on Tuesday if McClain should cooperate against Madigan, if asked, the governor said, “anybody that is interviewed by an investigatory body should be forthcoming with information that they have.”

Gov. J.B. Pritzker, left; state House Speaker Mike Madigan, right.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker, left; state House Speaker Mike Madigan, right.

Amr Alfiky/AP; Rich Hein/Chicago Sun-Times

The “culture” Pritzker is referencing involves more than just an email about rape and ghost payrollers. Reformers are hoping the ongoing federal investigations will help to unravel an unpopular and damaging power dynamic and put an end to longstanding corruption in Illinois politics.

McClain is under federal scrutiny as part of an ongoing investigation into ComEd’s lobbying practices in Illinois, a source told the Sun-Times. Neither Madigan or McClain have been charged with any wrongdoing.

“Every person in Springfield needs to take a good hard look at themselves and ask what their role has been in creating this culture, the availability of engaging in corruption thats the culture that i’m talking about that’s so poisonous,” Pritzker said. “And we have to ask the question and they should ask the question of themselves is, have they been contributing to that culture or have they been working, as I am, to improve the culture, to get that out of Springfield.”

Pritzker also likened McClain’s language in the email to that of a “crime syndicate.”

“Anyone who thinks it’s OK to talk about these things like they’re in a crime syndicate doesn’t belong in Springfield anymore,” Pritzker said. “We need change.”

Pritzker’s not the first Illinois governor to use the language of the Outfit to describe state politics.

Former Gov. Bruce Rauner often compared Madigan to a member of the “mafia.”

“He has rigged the system. He controls it. It’s a mafia protection racket. And until he’s gone, we aren’t going to fix Illinois. We’re not going to have a good future,” the former Republican governor said of Madigan.

Pritzker said there is a “gathering storm for people who are headed in the wrong direction, the people who created this culture, the people who are contributing to it.”

Pritzker said he didn’t know whether McClain recommended Sullivan to the agriculture position but said the administration received “a lot of recommendations” about Sullivan.

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