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READER COMMENTS CLOSED FOR THE HOLIDAYS

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      


Question of the day

Thursday, Jun 29, 2006

Rate Pat Quinn’s performance as lt. governor.

Also, as a bonus question, is GOP LG candidate Joe Birkett an asset to the ticket or a drag? Explain.

- Posted by Rich Miller   58 Comments      


More reform and renewal

Thursday, Jun 29, 2006

This is very big, campers. Very big.

Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s top lawyer issued a sweeping order Wednesday directing state agencies to compile lists of everyone who worked in their personnel offices since 2003 and to inventory their computer records, signaling a broader federal investigation of hiring than the governor’s office has previously acknowledged.

The order, in a memo from the governor’s legal counsel obtained by the Tribune, covers 15 state agencies, far more than the three departments that the Blagojevich administration had previously confirmed as having received federal subpoenas.

Administration sources familiar with the federal investigation and the document-gathering order said Wednesday that additional state agencies had received federal subpoenas since October of last year, when the governor’s office acknowledged subpoenas had been received by the Departments of Children and Family Services, Corrections and Transportation. The sources would not say how many more agencies had received subpoenas. […]

The administration sources cautioned against interpreting the state order as a sign of an expanding federal probe, saying the investigation was broad from the start.

Bull.

The initial investigation focused on just a few agencies and the governor’s personnel office. If they’d found no problems, it’s doubtful that they would have expanded their probe into so many other agencies.

Meanwhile, the governor was hit on another “Reform and Renewal” front today.

Gov. Rod Blagojevich awarded a lucrative special deal to a California company that employs his campaign manager’s sister as an executive.

The $100 million contract to oversee the state’s much-touted program providing poor seniors with prescription drugs went to Pacificare, where Nancy Monk works as a vice president. She’s the sister of Lon Monk, the governor’s longtime friend and chief of staff at the time the deal was announced last fall.

And the Tribune ran an editorial with the headline “Gov. Rod Ryan”

Blagojevich is making just like George Ryan, handing out free money to legislators’ friends, relatives and constituents for their pet projects.

And, finally, I had a little about this in Wednesday’s Capitol Fax, but Topinka claims that a Blagojevich staffer was videotaping her fundraiser guests and taking down their license plate numbers.

‘’If we wanted a list of her contributors, you can get it on the computer in 30 seconds. We wouldn’t go through a ridiculous process to send a staff person out to videotape license plates,” [Blagojevich spokesperson Sheila Nix] said.

You would if you were trying to intimidate people into not contributing or checking to see if any state employees were in attendance.

- Posted by Rich Miller   53 Comments      


Stroger roundup

Thursday, Jun 29, 2006

· The Sun-Times starts us off:

Ald. Todd Stroger (8th) has the votes among Democratic ward bosses to replace his stroke-stricken father as County Board president, Ald. William Beavers (7th) said Wednesday, predicting the younger Stroger will grow in the pressure-cooker job.

“When your father is a powerful man, you kind of step back. … He’s never been Todd Stroger. He’s always been John Stroger’s son. He’s going to become Todd Stroger,” Beavers said.

· But has Beavers really rounded up all the necessary votes? Tribune:

Chicago Ald. William Beavers (7th), a veteran South Side political power broker who has been making calls on Todd Stroger’s behalf, told reporters “there’s enough votes” for Todd Stroger to succeed his father. But when asked if he had the votes already lined up for Todd Stroger, Beavers said, “We’re working on that right now, OK?”

· What Mark Brown is really saying here is that Todd Stroger has been a back-bencher for his entire political career. And he’s right, that does make a big difference.

Unlike the progeny of some of the other politicians boosted up the ladder, the characteristic so often remarked upon in regards to Todd Stroger is his utter lack of ambition in everything he’s done. A nice guy, they’ve always said, but no fire in the belly. Beavers says he’ll be different now.

· The Sun-Times editorializes:

We have to admit we are not aware of widespread anger over the utter disregard the John Stroger camp has shown the voting public since the Cook County Board president was sidelined by a stroke in March. But we hope people are finally getting mad as heck over the concerted efforts to keep Stroger’s health a secret, to resist interim measures that would actually put someone in charge of county government and to pass on the presidency as a hereditary title.

· As does the Tribune:

By what right do they ordain as Stroger’s successor in this crucial post–the second most important job in local government–a son who has shown no leadership whatsoever in the Illinois legislature or the Chicago City Council?

After John Stroger’s decades of public service, those closest to him want this to be his legacy?

This is a debacle that doesn’t have to be.

· And Mary Mitchell says the deal is unfair to Steele:

But if the scheme to install Ald. Todd Stroger (8th) as Cook County Board president is an indication of the direction black politics is heading, good government is still a long way off. Frankly, the actions black politicians have taken since Todd Stroger’s father, President John Stroger, suffered a stroke in March have made us a laughingstock.

These elected officials aren’t even pretending to be interested in public service.

Steele is speaking at the Union League Club next Thursday morning. Should be interesting

- Posted by Rich Miller   36 Comments      


Morning shorts

Thursday, Jun 29, 2006

· “Just months after Illinois cracked down on the short-term loan business, Gov. Rod Blagojevich is making another push for restrictions to protect consumers – a push the industry says goes too far.”

· “Jill Blodgett… attended a Judy Baar Topinka event Wednesday in Palatine looking for one answer.”

· Editorial: Governor’s claims require proof to be fact

· Good for him: Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich declared his disapproval of plans for a toll bridge across the Mississippi River at St. Louis. “It will never happen as long as I’m governor,” Blagojevich said.

· Drives designed to boost Hispanic voters’ clout

· “Faced with a hefty fee increase, a group representing the state’s 1,400 Korean-American dry cleaners has proposed scrapping a program that oversees the licensing of dry cleaners and provides money to clean up chemical spills”

· “A trade group that represents liquor retailers is mounting a legal challenge to Springfield’s new indoor smoking ban for public places.”

· “… But the stage for politicians is going to be a little smaller this Independence Day because of changes prompted by parade-watchers who complained that too many politicians made the event boring.”

· Suit costs could have paid 28 teachers

· “He is a high school dropout, but imprisoned killer Brian J. Dugan has become something of a jailhouse lawyer over the years”

· GOP calling ‘big oil’ rallies political stunt

- Posted by Rich Miller   6 Comments      


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