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Smith Attorney: Feds wanted info on Jesse White - Smith hearing delayed while feds take action

Monday, Apr 9, 2012

* Rep. Derrick Smith’s attorney made some explosive allegations last week

Victor Henderson, the lawyer for accused Illinois State Representative Derrick Smith tells “The Don and Roma Show” on WLS, that the reason federal authorities charged Smith with bribery, was because they wanted him to give up information about possible wrongdoing by Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White, Smith’s long-time political mentor.

“What I’m telling you is that we have had people coming into our office and tell us that the federal government was leaning on Derrick Smith to give up names, and Jesse White was one of those names.”

When asked specifically if the Feds leaned on Smith for information, Henderson said, “I’m telling you that they leaned on him and the story will come out for other names. And that he stood tall and would not do it.”

WLS contacted Dave Druker, the media spokesman for Jesse White, who told us, “Jesse White has a 36 year unblemished public record. This is an unfounded desperate charge. We have no further comment.”

White also said he will likely find an independent candidate to run against Smith this November if he doesn’t resign from the ballot.

* In other news

The Illinois House panel investigating a Chicago lawmaker accused of bribery is holding off on hearings next week because of the potential for more activity in federal court.

The latest developments in the case of Rep. Derrick Smith, D-Chicago, emerged in a letter released Saturday by the ranking lawmakers of both parties on the House Special Investigating Committee.

“We have learned that there is a possibility of further court action in the criminal proceeding involving Representative Smith toward the end of the week of April 9,” wrote Democratic Rep. Elaine Nekritz, the committee chair from Northbrook, and Republican Rep. Dennis Reboletti, the minority spokesman from Elmhurst.

The House committee had anticipated meeting next week. But the lawmakers said a hearing will be postponed the House returns to Springfield in mid-April. The letter, written to other lawmakers on the panel, said that will allow time to “review and respond to any information that might come out during the additional court proceedings.”

The full letter is here. It’s likely that Smith will be formally indicted this week.

* Meanwhile, Secretary White talked about Rep. Smith on Fox Chicago Sunday

FOX Chicago Sunday: Secretary of State Jesse White on Illinois Politics:

* And my syndicated newspaper column that was published last week during my vacation was about an interview with White

I’ve been pretty rough on Secretary of State Jesse White lately. I have no regrets about it, and I believe I had good reason to put the onus on him to correct his mistake of appointing Derrick Smith to the Illinois House last year. Smith, of course, was arrested earlier this month on federal bribery charges.

Secretary White requested a sit-down last week and I was more than happy to meet with him. I’ve always respected the guy, but I told him in no uncertain terms that I stood by everything I wrote and will continue to hold him responsible for resolving this mess.

White initially blamed his alderman and protege Walter Burnett for Smith’s appointment. Burnett, White said, didn’t fully inform him about Smith’s background problems (Smith was fired from his city job and the Chicago Sun-Times reported a few years ago that he’d been accused of malfeasance). That’s no excuse, however. White is the top dog and the blame rests with him. He agreed.

The Secretary said he had put some thought into how he wants the replacement process to work if Smith resigns or is expelled from the House. White said he wanted to make sure that whoever replaces Smith is “blue chip,” and showed me a list of his priorities for vetting the wannabes, including a complete background check.

White also said he wants the potential replacements to fill out an “extensive questionnaire” about their backgrounds and their plans for the future. He wants them to write an essay, including a statement on why they want to be a legislator and what proposals they’d like to initiate in Springfield.

Interestingly, White said he also wants to know how much the potential replacements earn every year. He pointed out that Smith took a significant pay cut from the secretary of state’s office when he was appointed to the House, and he speculated that the alleged bribery might have at least partially been due to that reduced income, combined with an alleged criminal bent, White quickly added. The secretary wants to make the appointment process “open and transparent” to not only everyone interested in the appointment, but to the general public as well.

If Smith resigns or is ultimately expelled from the House, White won’t make the replacement appointment alone. The 10th House District encompasses nine Chicago wards, so other Democratic ward committeemen will be involved. White stressed that his list is not the final word. He said he also wants the district’s other committeemen to come up with ideas for vetting the candidates to make sure they get the right person.

White said he intends to put as much energy and effort into the replacement as he did helping Patricia Van Pelt Watkins defeat Sen. Annazette Collins (D-Chicago) in the Democratic primary. The secretary said he’s been in regular contact with Ald. Jason Ervin, a young and seemingly bright go-getter who will have a major say in the appointment as well (I chatted with the alderman a few weeks ago in Collins’ West Side campaign office and was fairly impressed). Ervin backed Collins against Watkins, but White said he’s confident the two can work together and claims that they’re already putting the past behind them.

Despite some initial defensiveness (probably because I’ve been so harsh on him), White manned up last week and admitted he’d made a terrible mistake with Smith, calling the legislator one of the worst he’d ever seen in all his years. He appears to understand the damage this scandal has done to his once sterling reputation, and he also seems determined to do the right thing when it comes time to replace Smith.

The proof, of course, will be in the pudding. Getting all this done won’t be easy. The West Side is also the Wild West. Self interest and petty turf wars far too often trump public service in that part of the world. Watkins’ victory signaled a fresh start, however. Voters in nine of the district’s 12 wards went with Watkins over Collins, despite a fortune spent on Collins’ behalf. White may yet succeed. We’ll know soon enough.


- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - Boone Logan Square - Monday, Apr 9, 12 @ 9:22 am:

    Nice journalism, Rich. I look forward to seeing the process unfold.

  2. - Shore - Monday, Apr 9, 12 @ 9:28 am:

    Jesse White is an incredible man who has had a storied career and as a Republican I’ve praised him here for my experiences at the dmv , but it’s time for him to go. What’s so disgusting about this episode isn’t his pathetic lack of judgement it’s the timing of this coming in the wake of blago entering prison and it sends a thoroughly depressing message to the state and country that nothing has changed.

    Addios pal.

  3. - Hank - Monday, Apr 9, 12 @ 9:30 am:

    Smith is apparently going to use the “Beavers Defense”…they wanted me to snitch on (fill in the blank) but I wouldn’t so I’m a hero, please place the medal on my chest!

  4. - Anonymous - Monday, Apr 9, 12 @ 9:37 am:

    Smith isn’t snitching because he has nobody to snitch on. Smith is the crook & he knows it. He knows that neither Jesse White, nor anyone else had anything to do with the crime at hand.

  5. - wordslinger - Monday, Apr 9, 12 @ 9:47 am:

    It’s certainly plausible that the federales were trying to flip Smith. Getting small fry to give up bigger fish is standard practice, as we all know from watching the various parades of flippers in federal courts in recent years.

    Smith doesn’t strike me as some big hitter who would be at the top of the U.S. Attorney’s list on his own merits, or lack thereof.

  6. - Plutocrat03 - Monday, Apr 9, 12 @ 9:52 am:

    Trial run of the Beaver’s defense? Would allow for time to develop a plan B if it goes down in flames.

  7. - TCB - Monday, Apr 9, 12 @ 9:52 am:

    Ofcourse Smith isn’t going to snitch, he has nobody to snitch on. Smith is the crook and he knows it.

  8. - Fed up - Monday, Apr 9, 12 @ 10:09 am:

    Well Jessie White does employee a f,ew family members and he has made some questionable moves regarding leases for state facilities. People always give him the benifit of the doubt but it might be time for White to gracefully move on. He sure has made a mess of his attempts at being a kingmaker

  9. - Nagidam - Monday, Apr 9, 12 @ 10:12 am:

    It would not surprise me if the G asked if Smith had anything on Jesse White. They would not be doing their jobs if they didn’t see where the investigation went. It would surprise me if Smith had anything. Smith is not very bright and Whites handlers would never let someone like him to get in the top circle.

  10. - tired of press - Monday, Apr 9, 12 @ 11:29 am:

    It will take more than this for me to believe that Jesse White is not a man of integrity. He definitely called a bad shot with Smith. But, it is also easy to believe that Smith’s bad judgement was out of his control, and a complete surprise to him. It also sounds like he is doing his best to fix this mistake.

    Also noteworthy: Jesse White showed zero tolerance for the much smaller ethical lapses of Annazette Collins, even though it would have been easy to let her keep on going, as the rest of the Democratic Party was so happy to do. In fact, they dumped a load of money in that race.

    Dumping her and backing Watkins was a huge risk for him (and originally quite a long-shot). He backed Watkins AFTER originally supporting Collins for the seat. Seems like he did it because he was genuinely disappointed in Collins and impressed with Watkins. In other words, it was the right thing to do.

    Overall, this state would be a much, much better place if politicians had the integrity of Jesse White–and the willingness to account for and remedy their mistakes. That’s a lot to ask for when it comes to politics.

  11. - Pot calling kettle - Monday, Apr 9, 12 @ 11:58 am:

    ==“I’m telling you that they leaned on him and the story will come out for other names. And that he stood tall and would not do it.”==

    But, apparently, atty. Henderson will. Nice move.

  12. - Yellow Dog Democrat - Monday, Apr 9, 12 @ 12:39 pm:

    I’m betting that the primary target is not White but Alderman Burnett.

    White has taken most of the political heat, but from what I’ve read, Burnett was Smith’s political sponsor.

    If the feds are sincere in going after Secretary White, they are gonna need more than just a little luck. Its not like Jesse sends a bunch of emails or is known for yakking on his cell phone, so you’ve got no physical evidence. And even if you could get someone from his inner sanctum to flip - which I doubt - good luck finding a jury to convict.

    Presuming of course he did anything criminal, which I highly doubt. BTW, all of this “time to go” talk assures he runs again, just for vindication.

  13. - bourbonrich - Monday, Apr 9, 12 @ 1:02 pm:

    Is anyone else surprised that he took a pay cut when he became a legislator? SoS must pay really, really, really well.

  14. - Quinn T. Sential - Monday, Apr 9, 12 @ 3:08 pm:

    You missed a tremendous opportunity to address the subject of “low information voters”.

    Conjecture suggests that race was an influencing factor suggesting this qualification, but I suspoect that there is more to it than that.

    It would have been interesting at least to get the Secretary’s perspective of that assessment of the areas voters if for no other reason than to provide them with a spiritied defense as something more than automated robots for doing as they are told when it comes to voting.

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