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Madigan confidant, others plead not guilty in bribery case as GOP leader floats bid for speaker’s gavel

House GOP leader Jim Durkin said he had 45 of the 60 votes required to become speaker, and he said he planned to appeal to 15 “reform-minded” Democrats in an unlikely bid to get them to support his ascension to speaker.

Illinois House Republican Leader Jim Durkin, R-Western Springs, left, talks with Illinois Speaker of the House Michael Madigan, D-Chicago.
Illinois House Republican Leader Jim Durkin, R-Western Springs, left, talks with Illinois Speaker of the House Michael Madigan, D-Chicago.
AP Photos

The leader of Illinois’ House GOP followed the first highly anticipated — but uneventful — court appearance Wednesday for four indicted members of Speaker Michael Madigan’s inner circle by calling for Madigan’s resignation and declaring his own candidacy for speaker.

That amounted to the latest in the steady drip-drip-drip of developments in the two weeks since federal prosecutors charged Madigan confidant Michael McClain, former ComEd CEO Anne Pramaggiore and two others in an alleged long-term bribery scheme designed to curry favor with the man who has led the Illinois House of Representatives for decades.

McClain, Pramaggiore and their co-defendants — former ComEd vice president John Hooker and ex-City Club President Jay Doherty — formally pleaded not guilty by video Wednesday morning before U.S. District Judge Harry Leinenweber. The remote hearing, due to the coronavirus pandemic, meant the four did not have to take the awkward stroll before reporters at the Dirksen Federal Courthouse that scores of public corruption defendants have faced in the past.

Ex-top ComEd official John Hooker, onetime lobbyist and Madigan confidant Michael McClain, former ComEd CEO Anne Pramaggiore, and ex-City Club President Jay Doherty.
Sun-Times file photos

However, they could still be seen on video. Some appeared alone on screen. Hooker wore a mask at times. McClain was seated in a room with a large bookshelf. Doherty appeared along with his attorney. And Leinenweber could be seen in front of what appeared to be photos of Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush.

When the hearing began, Leinenweber noted that he served in the Illinois General Assembly from 1973 until 1983 — around the same time McClain, a former lawmaker, also served. The judge said he did not expect that to be an issue in the case, and the lawyers did not disagree.

The hearing otherwise offered no surprises. But it was followed by a news conference held by House Republican Leader Jim Durkin and GOP members of a special legislative committee that has been looking into Madigan’s dealings with ComEd, which was also charged with bribery in July.

So far 19 House Democrats — including a member of the House Democratic leadership — have said they will not vote for Madigan to remain speaker in January. During Wednesday’s news conference, Durkin said he had 45 of the 60 votes required to become speaker, and he said he planned to appeal to 15 “reform-minded” Democrats in an unlikely bid to get them to support his ascension to speaker.

Durkin also called on Madigan to resign. Madigan, who has not been criminally charged, has repeatedly denied wrongdoing and has said he will seek re-election as speaker in January.

State Rep. Emanuel “Chris” Welch, the Democrat who chairs the special committee, later alleged in a statement that the only goal of Durkin and his fellow Republicans “has been political theater, even if that means dragging this committee into the middle of the federal prosecutor’s case against ComEd associates.”

Asked during Wednesday’s news conference about his name appearing in a trove of documents from ComEd related to the federal investigation released last week, Durkin said he “did not have any involvement” in making calls to get friends or others employed at the utility company.

David Glockner, ComEd’s executive vice president of compliance and audit, testified in September he wasn’t aware of any “direct communication” from Durkin in regards to hiring matters but his “recollection is that we have a communication from a third party… indicating that Leader Durkin had recommended” Tom Walsh, a former state senator and ally of Durkin.

Glockner went on to say he was “not aware that that particular hire was with an effort to curry favor” with Durkin.

One of the emails released last week mentions an “agent” working on behalf of Durkin. Durkin didn’t address the potential third party weighing in on his behalf, but a spokeswoman said the Republican was not aware of that if it was the case.

“The purpose of the federal investigation and also the special investigative committee is not about job recommendations,” Durkin said Wednesday. “It is about a nine-year bribery scandal between Commonwealth Edison and Mike Madigan, pure and simple. And that’s what we’re trying to get at.”