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Friday, Jun 30, 2006

I’m sure Illinoize will have more about the Fitzgerald stuff this weekend. I’m not sure, however, when I’ll be blogging again because of the holiday and everything that entails, but check for updates.

Meanwhile, here is a special Topix Google news feed I put together that searches for Fitzgerald, Blagojevich and Madigan.

And here is the Illinoize feed.

Also, don’t forget about your July 4th present!

- Posted by Rich Miller   Comments Off      

THIS JUST IN… AG Madigan agrees to refer her investigation to the feds …UPDATED: Explosive allegations in Fitzgerald letter

Friday, Jun 30, 2006

From a press release:

Attorney General Lisa Madigan today announced that she will refer her ongoing investigation of alleged illegal hiring practices in various state agencies to the U. S. Department of Justice at the request of U. S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald.

In a letter to Madigan, Fitzgerald cited the problems inherent in overlapping investigations in making his request that Madigan merge her investigation into his.

“We are coordinating with the U. S. Attorney to avoid the potential for inadvertent interference with each other’s investigations,” Madigan said. “My top priority is that these matters are thoroughly and professionally investigated, and I am confident that will be the result of this agreement.”

Fitzgerald praised the professionalism of Madigan’s office and her contributions to the investigation. Madigan’s office released Fitzgerald’s letter today but could not comment further on this or other ongoing investigations.

I’ll post Fitzgerald’s letter in a minute or so.

UPDATE: The pdf file was too huge to post without needlessly chewing up bandwidth (I think because of the redactions) , so Click here for page one of Fitzgerald’s letter. Page 2 is here. (jpg files)

UPDATE 2: Fitzgerald’s letter to Madigan claims that the federal investigation currently includes:

…the alleged rigging of state employment practices to enable political hiring in violation of Rutan and include, among other things, the preparation of fraudulent hiring documentation. Our investigation has implicated multiple state agencies and departments and we have developed a number of credible witnesses.

[Emphasis added]

UPDATE 3: Fitzgerald goes on to discuss Madigan’s investigation.

While we were conducting our investigation [Redacted by the government] in November 2005 your office independently also obtained information concerning fraudulent hiring practices at two state agencies and commenced an investigation of those allegations.

Additionally, we understand that your office has begun its investigation of the allegations [Redacted by the government] which you believe would cause a broadening of your existing investigation to other state agencies.

[Emphasis added]

UPDATE 4: ArchPundit makes a very good point in comments:

It sounds more like tests were being rigged instead of just preferring political allies over non-allies once they got in the pool. Worse, to do so requires a conspiracy–and that this includes essentially all Executive Agencies, a wide ranging conspiracy and could even provide enough for RICO predicates.

UPDATE 5: A very brief AP story is up:

Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s administration is the focus of an ongoing federal investigation that has “implicated multiple state agencies” in allegations of corrupt hiring, U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald has confirmed.

Fitzgerald said his investigation has yielded credible witnesses related to “very serious allegations of endemic hiring fraud.”

[Emphasis added]

UPDATE 6: The AP now has a longer story posted.

Fitzgerald approved releasing the letter to the public, said Madigan spokeswoman Melissa Merz, and Madigan has agreed to drop her investigations. Merz would not comment further.

This is the first time Fitzgerald has said he is investigating the administration, although Blagojevich has acknowledged his agencies and some of his high-ranking aides were being scrutinized. […]

Fitzgerald’s letter says his office began investigating Blagojevich about a year ago and opened another investigation - which has now been merged with the first - late last summer. […]

Fitzgerald said his investigation and Madigan’s probe of similar allegations might conflict. He asks Madigan to suspend her probe because “the most important consideration for both our offices is that the very serious allegations of endemic hiring fraud be thoroughly and expeditiously investigated and, if appropriate, prosecuted.”

UPDATE 7: Statement from the Blagojevich office:

Statement from Abby Ottenhoff, Spokesperson for Gov. Blagojevich on letter released today by Attorney General Madigan:

“When we came into office we began to reform a system that was difficult to change. Under immense pressure to pad the payroll, we instead cut it by more than 13,000. With that said, we did have to hire people to help run state government. Among those we hired there were some bad apples who violated the rules. The systems we put in place in our first year helped ferret out this wrongdoing. We insisted on an independent Inspector General for precisely this purpose. We’ve acted on those IG recommendations up to and including termination, and where appropriate, referred them to the US Attorney for criminal investigation. We will continue pursuing those who would break the rules.”

So, a few “bad apples” are responsible for “very serious allegations of endemic hiring fraud“? Hardly. This statement tells us nothing, as usual.

UPDATE 8: The AP has transcribed the Fitzgerald letter from the original pdf format and posted it online in a more readable, quotable format.

UPDATE 9: The governor was in the Peoria area today. He was supposed to arrive about 2:30, less than an hour after this story broke. So far, there’s nothing online yet except this WMBD story about him touting All Kids. I fear the story may have broken too late for the locals to figure out what was going on and ask him about it.

UPDATE 10: Notice in “Update 7″ how the Blagojevich press release talks about referring cases to the US Attorney’s office and diligently rooting out corruption and cooperating with law enforcement?

Also, notice Patrick Fitzgerald’s praise for AG Lisa Madigan’s investigative work in his letter.

We recognize that significant effort was expended by your office concerning allegedly illegal hiring activities, and appreciate the professionalism of the Office of the Illinois Attorney General […]

On a personal note, I know that you have committed significant resources to the efforts to investigate public corruption and have assigned particularly talented attorneys to that effort. I appreciate the approach you have taken in this matter, and will be cognizant, as you suggest, that if we determine that there is criminal conduct which cannot be reached by federal prosecution and for which there is the possibility of state action, to make that information immediately available to you where appropriate. And while I know that you expect nothing more than that my office and the FBI conduct the federal investigation professionally and expeditiously, please be assured that when the circumstances of the investigation permits, I hope to publicly recognize the contribution of your office.

My point is, where’s the letter from US Attorney Fitzgerald praising the governor’s efforts to root out corruption? If he doesn’t have one, and can’t get one, then what does that say about the governor’s press release? Do they understand how much they insult our intelligence and do they enjoy it?

UPDATE 11: “Fitz of July” or “4th of July Fitzworks”? Which do you prefer? Got any others? (”Fitzmas in July” has been suggested in comments.)

UPDATE 12: Tribune:

Fitzgerald’s comments, contained in a letter he wrote June 20 to Illinois Atty. Gen. Lisa Madigan, represent the clearest explanation to date of the efforts by federal prosecutors to examine potential wrongdoing within the state’s hiring system.

- Posted by Rich Miller   79 Comments      

Wave that flag

Friday, Jun 30, 2006

I know it’s a little early, but this is my 4th of July present to you. If it doesn’t work, click here.

- Posted by Rich Miller   14 Comments      

Question of the day

Friday, Jun 30, 2006

As I wrote a few minutes ago, the governor has a “truly marvelous political ability to be absolutely shameless when he’s making stuff up.”

Since it’s a Friday before a long holiday weekend, let’s lighten things up a little.

Imagine the governor in various everyday situations/confrontations that normal people face and then imagine what excuses he would use. Be as creative as possible.

- Posted by Rich Miller   37 Comments      

Yet another bad day for the governor

Friday, Jun 30, 2006

Since the governor didn’t deny yesterday that federal investigators have forced 15 state agencies to turn over hiring records, as the Tribune reported, we can safely assume that was the case.

We can also safely assume that the governor has a truly marvelous political ability to be absolutely shameless when he’s making stuff up.

“I think what you read today is an example of why we have continuously worked to fundamentally change things in state government,” Blagojevich said after a news conference promoting his All Kids health insurance program.

He said the edict to gather information shows his administration is trying to stay on top of hiring practices.

“We are always making sure that we are vigilant and constantly reminding our agency directors to follow the rules and to make sure that we stay on top of this,” Blagojevich said.

The Daily Herald noted the irony in the timing of the allegations. Yesterday’s press conference was designed to kick off All Kids.

Ironically, Blagojevich was in the same situation last October, when he first trotted out the All Kids program as a way to help middle-income parents get their children health insurance on the same day the first federal subpoenas were revealed.

And Joe Birkett, complaining about a $100 million no-bid contract to a company that employs the guv’s former chief of staff, claimed the investigation count was nine.

“Is that believable?” said Birkett about Lon Monk’s statement. “I would say that in an administration that’s already under nine separate state and federal investigations has just invited investigation No. 10.”

When asked about Birkett’s comments, Blagojevich dismissed them by saying Birkett needed to lighten up.

He’s right about that one, of course.

Meanwhile, there was some more bad news.

A letter produced in court this week seeks to bolster a claim by top Illinois State Police officers that they lost a vacation provision because they declined to endorse Gov. Rod Blagojevich in his last election.

The non-unionized command officers filed a lawsuit in 2004 that claims unionized rank-and-file troopers kept the benefit after endorsing the governor, and the letter written June 14 by the union president reminds members of what their support meant.

“I believe that the speed in which we successfully negotiated our recent collective bargaining agreement, the most lucrative in Lodge history, can be attributed to the endorsement of the governor,” wrote L.H. “Buddy” Parker of State Troopers Lodge No. 41.

UPDATE: Currie has more. Read it.

- Posted by Rich Miller   11 Comments      

Dynastic politics rules again

Friday, Jun 30, 2006

It looks like President Stroger will step down after all and John Daley will be his interim replacement.

Under fire for the leadership vacuum in Cook County government, stroke-stricken John Stroger has decided to resign as county board president on June 31 rather than serve until the end of the year — paving the way for Mayor Daley’s brother to become Stroger’s interim replacement.

So, Stroger steps down and his son Todd replaces him on the ballot. Ald. William Beavers will take Stroger’s place on the ballot for his county board seat and Beavers’ daughter will then take Beavers’ city council slot. And the mayor’s brother (who is the son of a former mayor) will take the president’s job until Todd is sworn in (although Larry Suffredin told the Tribune it might also be Commissioner Bobbie Steele).

Like I said earlier this week, Chicago is the world capital of nepotism, or as Dick Simpson wrote today: “Apparently, Cook County is a monarchy or no better than a third-rate banana republic despite being the 19th-largest government in the United States.”

“Still,” Neil Steinberg writes, “it seems a shame that the ascendant Stroger dynasty does not have the traditional heraldic crest.”

King… um… President Stroger will grace his soon-t0-be-former subjects with his presense sometime soon. “Sneed is told Stroger plans to appear in public for the first time since suffering his March stroke, but no date has been set. ‘It will be some time this summer,’ said the source.”

Meanwhile, Rev. Sen. James Meeks isn’t so sure about all this.

State Sen. James Meeks said Thursday he is not “100 percent sure” that Todd Stroger is the best qualified, most electable candidate to replace his father on the November ballot for Cook County board president. […]

“If the Democratic Party and if African-Americans are concerned about keeping that seat, then the party and African-Americans must make sure that it … puts its best qualified, most electable person on the ballot,” Meeks said.

And John Kass tries to put a big bow on everything in his summation.

The wrangling over Stroger doesn’t matter because the mayor is boss. He’ll decide how he wants to run Cook County government. He needs someone black in the president’s chair, as required political counterweight to his whiteness. Call it cynical, but it’s reality.

Mega bonus points for the first person who can spot the timing problem in the Sun-Times article.

- Posted by Rich Miller   40 Comments      

All Kids worries

Friday, Jun 30, 2006

The Tribune reports there are growing concerns about All Kids.

“Two days before the launch of Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s signature health-care plan, All Kids, medical groups are voicing serious concerns about the program’s viability and physicians’ interest in participating.

“‘We are extremely, extremely worried about whether the program will run smoothly enough to allow access to care,’ said Dr. Peter Eupierre, president of the Illinois State Medical Society, a physicians group.”

At issue is growing dissatisfaction in the medical community with late payments by Illinois’ Medicaid program, a problem that could discourage physicians from taking on new patients under All Kids. Also, dissatisfied doctors may decline to take on new care-management responsibilities for Medicaid patients, a move planned to make All Kids affordable.

Still, the publicity appears to be working.

The governor claimed early success Thursday with the announcement that 43,000 previously uninsured children had enrolled in All Kids–close to the 50,000 enrollment target the state had set for the first year.

UPDATE: Despite what some people are posting in comments, an administration spokesperson just said the rumors that the All Kids enrollment list was padded with KidCare and Medicaid clients is not true. So, unless you’ve got some evidence, please stop.

- Posted by Rich Miller   9 Comments      

Morning shorts

Friday, Jun 30, 2006

· Editorial: In chiding his fellow party members for shying away from discussions and debates over religious issues for fear of giving offense or appearing insensitive to those with opposing views, Obama made a timely, considered statement that would carry weight whether Democrats look to him as a savior or not — and clearly a lot of them do, given the ceaseless speculation about his prospects as a presidential candidate… “Not every mention of God in public is a breach to the wall of separation — context matters,” said Obama. In the context of politics, injecting a real moral dimension matters, too.

· Gubernatorial debates still up in the air

· “Four years before an agreed deadline, Adventist Hinsdale Hospital will shut down its medical waste incinerator Friday.”

· “llinois Governor Rod Blagojevich’s office no longer plans to use a five-year loan to buy 500 new state police cars, because that would be illegal.”

· Toll Road deal just speck on windshield for Indiana motorists

· “Faced with mounting criticism of its $1-per-page copying fee, the DuPage Election Commission is expected to revisit the long-standing policy.”

· From an SEIU press release:

The Service Employees International Union is increasing its involvement this year in the city’s aldermanic politics. Because of our growing base in the city (100,000 members; 253,000 in SEIU households), we want to work harder to hold the Chicago City Council accountable to the city’s working people.

To this end, we will be offering full-day trainings in July to those wishing to run for alderman or work on aldermanic campaigns. In addition to community activists and Local School Council members, all incumbents have been invited to join us for these trainings.

- Posted by Rich Miller   4 Comments      

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