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A threat to the empire?

Monday, Jan 13, 2020

* My weekly syndicated newspaper column

“He has kept his mouth shut on Jones’ ghost workers, the rape in Champaign and other items. He is loyal to the Administration.”

That’s from an email sent by House Speaker Michael Madigan’s consigliere and ultimate Statehouse insider, Mike McClain, to Gov. Pat Quinn’s chief legislative liaison, Gary Hannig, and Quinn’s former chief of staff, Jerry Stermer, at 2:04 pm on July 31, 2012.

The message came to light after WBEZ reporters Tony Arnold and Dave McKinney filed Freedom of Information Act requests for all emails between McClain and gubernatorial chiefs of staff during the last ten years.

McClain was trying to save the job of fellow Quincy resident and state employee Forrest Ashby, who was facing disciplinary action the following day by the state’s Department of Corrections.

To my eyes, it sure looks like McClain was weaponizing the cover-up of alleged multiple felonies involving ghost-payrolling and rape to protect his guy.

And this is very, very important to keep in mind: McClain had to believe that Hannig and/or Stermer knew about those allegedly covered-up crimes and understood that the exposure of those crimes would severely damage Gov. Quinn’s administration, or his pitch couldn’t possibly work.

Neither Hannig nor Stermer replied to McClain’s email, but Ashby’s disciplinary meeting was postponed and McClain sent a follow-up email on August 1st: “I do not know what happened but I know nothing happens accidentally.”

He then thanked both men.

I have so many questions:

    1) Who is the rapist and how would the possibility of his exposure, um, “encourage” the Quinn administration to help McClain’s guy?

    2) What’s this “Jones’ ghost workers” thing about?

    3) What kind of a person weaponizes a rape cover-up for patronage?

    4) What kind of a person puts that sort of thing into a FOIA-able email?

    5) Did the Quinn administration put its finger on the scale after McClain’s implied threats?

    6) If McClain would go that far over the top with the governor’s chief of staff and chief legislative liaison, what did he write in his internal ComEd emails that have all been subpoenaed by the feds?

The answer to that last question, according to sources within ComEd, is “a lot.” The man overshared. Hold on to your shorts.

This blockbuster WBEZ story has rocked the House Democratic world like nothing else that has come before, and for good reason. McClain’s obvious penchant for saying things he shouldn’t via email (the “magic” lobbyist list, the “magic” spreadsheet of contribution bundlers, funneling money to the brother of Speaker Madigan’s alderman after he was accused of sexual harassment and fired, etc., etc.) might bring down the entire empire.

Madigan’s press secretary wouldn’t comment on the record, but House Majority Leader Greg Harris told me: “The reference to a rape coverup is shocking. It is good that the governor’s office has referred this to the appropriate authorities for further action.”

Gov. Pritzker, whose campaign hired Ashby to do faith-based outreach at McClain’s request, forwarded the case to the state office of executive inspector general.

”This email is horrific and troubling,” said Rep. Sara Feigenholtz, D-Chicago. “Since when should someone be rewarded for covering up a rape? Women deserve respect not cover-ups. The Champaign County state’s attorney and people with the proper authority should open up an investigation and start handing out subpoenas to get to the bottom of this.”

After some initial hesitation, the Champaign County state’s attorney (a Democrat) has agreed to investigate and claimed Friday that she was working with the Illinois attorney general, the state police and the U.S. attorney in her area.

I would add, we also need to know if those “Jones’ ghost workers” are still on the state payroll and who put them there and who this “Jones” is. I have my suspicions, but that’s all.

McClain was Madigan’s top guy for decades. He acted in Madigan’s name the entire time. Madigan has denied knowledge of anything in that 2012 McClain email. But it just seems unlikely to me that his top advisor apparently had significant dirt on the Quinn administration and he was kept totally in the dark.

Proving otherwise, however, could be very difficult if not impossible.

When George Ryan was elected governor, I said his friends would damage him much more than his enemies. That eventually happened to Ryan and it’s clear to anyone with eyes that the same thing is happening to Madigan.

I’ll have more on this topic in a bit.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - Steve - Monday, Jan 13, 20 @ 9:23 am:

    This is the second noteworthy column on questioning whether Mike Madigan should still be Speaker (Greg Hinz’s column was also very pointed). The voters don’t have a direct say on who’s Speaker. So, it’s up to the Illinois elected politicians in the House to remove Madigan as Speaker : if they want to . My hunch is many suburban females might be kind of turned off by all of this. But, I could be wrong. Mike Madigan might still be Speaker ten years from now.

  2. - Capitol Text - Monday, Jan 13, 20 @ 9:27 am:

    The Caucus won’t rebel because “bricks” will be put on their fundraising from unions. A promise from Governor Pritzker to be backup funding might facilitate a rebellion, but that fight is not worth the risk yet. More stories like this could change the calculus though

  3. - Anonymous - Monday, Jan 13, 20 @ 9:38 am:

    This all sounds bad for Pat Quinn and the cousin of Madigan’s Alderman’s brother. Your stretching too hard.

  4. - Levois J - Monday, Jan 13, 20 @ 9:42 am:

    wow! this column opened my eyes. it looks terrible , however, i’m not placing bets on this bringing down Madigan.

  5. - Leatherneck - Monday, Jan 13, 20 @ 9:45 am:

    Original Capitol Fax coverage on the MGT controversy (Aug. 16, 2010):

  6. - Just Me - Monday, Jan 13, 20 @ 9:46 am:

    My biggest question is why did Hannig and Stermer apparently agree with McClain since they apparently did him the favor he asked.

  7. - Oswego Willy - Monday, Jan 13, 20 @ 9:49 am:

    To the Post,

    For me, this is an “all time” column by Rich, proving again what separates Rich from other covering the state house, with insight and seeing beyond. Really good.

    This is the ball game as far as I’m concerned too;

    === When George Ryan was elected governor, I said his friends would damage him much more than his enemies. That eventually happened to Ryan and it’s clear to anyone with eyes that the same thing is happening to Madigan.===

    Paulie went down because of Henry Hill, they tried to get Michael with Frankie Five Angels.

    The silly and lazy folks get caught doing the unethical or criminal things, but how they drag down others, even IF those like Paulie or Michael knew, it’s the “friends” that take down the big fish, not their enemies.

    To the Republicans, it’s become quite evident the adults and honest brokers to this, and the usual partisan who lack and try to seem relevant.

    Leader Brady, who distanced himself from the Wehrli-Skillicorn ridiculousness, made the smartest decision to ask the state police and the inspector general to investigate, and he got that, looking like a leader concerned with truth.

    Leader Durkin, siding with the likes of Grant Wehrli and Allen Skillicorn, trivialized this by trying to make another Owl emerge to ask “who, who, who” while showing a lack of concern for a possible victim. Choosing your politics to possible criminal activity is not what I expected from a former prosecutor like Leader Durkin. Choosing to be in concert with Mr. Wehrli and Mr. Skillicorn is, in of itself, disappointing.

    The possible criminality should supersede.

    I still go back to the “short hand”

    I type and talk in short hand daily, speaking to moments, thoughts, places shared. It allows both myself and the other person a time saving. What Mike McClain did in his own short hand was tell me that those who got that email.., they knew, they listened to the leverage, and with no response, they accepted a *known*, and no pushback. That’s in an additional thought I’m keeping in mind, this alleged coverup that could’ve be used as leverage was not a new revelation.

    Democrats should be concerned and let the state police have everything at their disposal to get to the bottom, and let it go wherever it goes, evidence based, justice be sought. If that happens, and politics after will take care of itself, and it will be beyond approach.

    If the Raunerites think this is the way back, it’s really a chance to embrace POTUS openly, nothing more. It’s cover in a presidential cycle in a state where POTUS polls poorly and part of that is ethics. You’re not going to win the ethics question this cycle unless you abandon POTUS, so keep that in mind. That’s why Leader Brady’s decision and tact is head and shoulders above Leader Durkin, Mr. Wehrli and Mr. Skillicorn’s politics.

    Will Mike McClain be Henry Hill or Frankie Five Angels? That’s the question, but the real question, for me, is will poorly played politics try to hamper a true investigation that might even as Rich sees; the friends of Madigan bringing him down in the end.

  8. - Blue Dog Dem - Monday, Jan 13, 20 @ 10:02 am:

    Dating back to 1996, it is evident that ethics have nothing to do in terms of presidential outcomes in Illinois. Donald Trumps numbers are on par with both John McCain and Bob Dole to name a few. Illinois voters operate on the quid pro quo system. Meaning , you give me what I need, I vote for you. Nothing more. Nothing less.

  9. - SSL - Monday, Jan 13, 20 @ 10:09 am:

    Poor Mike. At a time when he should be enjoying his greatest political strength ever, he can’t turn around without getting hit by some nasty press. I’m sure he wishes this bad dream would just go away, but alas, it may get a lot worse. While this latest McClain miscue is just awful, the ComEd story is where the real danger lurks. If the dots connect Mike to ghost payrollers, that will be very difficult to overcome.

    All this stuff can really take a toll on a person. Maybe today is a 2 apple kind of day.

  10. - Santos L Halper - Monday, Jan 13, 20 @ 10:10 am:

    Rome is burning and the Speaker is Nero

  11. - Regular democrat - Monday, Jan 13, 20 @ 10:22 am:

    I think it’s obvious the speaker has to go. If Pritzker really wants to do something historic he will make this happen.

  12. - Friendly Bob Adams - Monday, Jan 13, 20 @ 10:24 am:

    We had two “ghosts” working in our agency in 1990 when I started with the state. They got paychecks in the packet but never showed up for any work. We had about 40 people in the Chicago office so I always wondered if that was the allowable percentage.

  13. - Roman - Monday, Jan 13, 20 @ 10:38 am:

    == what did he write in his internal ComEd emails that have all been subpoenaed by the feds? ==

    You always just assume these guys don’t write this stuff down, but his emails might be the key to the entire thing — the paper trail prosecutors dream about.

    OW, to keep your mob movie analogies going, Mike McClain might be to Illinois politics what Artie Piscano was in “Casino.” He was the Kansas City guy who kept the ledger that helped take down the crew.

    “I write it all down in this book. Every (expletive) nickel, it goes down right here.”

  14. - Oswego Willy - Monday, Jan 13, 20 @ 10:41 am:

    === Mike McClain might be to Illinois politics what Artie Piscano was in “Casino.”====

    This is probably the best comparison, when factoring in emails.

    We won’t know for sure, but the emails already out there point to the KC Underboss.

  15. - Donnie Elgin - Monday, Jan 13, 20 @ 10:46 am:

    MJM has no damage control tools to deflect this scandal. How fitting that the end will come from the keyboard of his most trusted adviser.
    His simplistic denial only makes him look tone deaf.

  16. - RNUG - Monday, Jan 13, 20 @ 10:56 am:

    Be interesting to see if the Sgt Schultz Chinese Wall holds.

    I have a feeling we are seeing the beginning of the end. My only question is does the end come in 12 months or will it be several years? And will it be voluntary or coerced?

    My guess … voluntary after the graduated income tax gets passed … got to leave on a legacy moment.

  17. - Jimmy Olson - Monday, Jan 13, 20 @ 11:02 am:

    Rich, point of clarification. I think Ashby was facing discipline from Department of Human Services, not IDOC.

  18. - Lucky Pierre - Monday, Jan 13, 20 @ 11:23 am:

    Since we are in a budget crisis perhaps the Speaker can cut the ghost worker program.

  19. - Livin' la vida FOIA - Monday, Jan 13, 20 @ 1:16 pm:

    One more thing —

    Those of us who have lived in the world of FOIA know the drill: If someone sends you an email message that is clearly illegal (e.g., political in nature or, you know, asking you to commit a felony of some kind), you ALWAYS respond with an email filled with shock and outrage. Because you want that CYA response to be on the record.

    Then, of course, if you WANT to commit a felony, you head outside and call the person back on your personal cellphone.

    I am less concerned by McClain’s email — which, as Rich points out, clearly was an extortion threat — than I am by the lack of response. Because if Stermer and Hannig didn’t send the “how dare you, sirrah!” response, it means that they believed McClain would take retaliatory action if they tried to cover their butts at his expense.

    I can’t tell you how upset I am by this.

    And while the rape accusation is getting the ink,the ghost payrollers are likely to create the larger problem, because there would have been plenty of people who knew about it in the agency. And some of them will almost certainly want to make trouble. This is far from over.

  20. - dbk - Monday, Jan 13, 20 @ 1:54 pm:

    Guess this goes to show that it’s not enough not to use email or cell phones yourself, when everybody who works for you is whacking away at their letter pad/keyboard.

    I read this when it came out and tweeted to my 10 or so followers “Lecture 1, Illnois Politics 101: Never say “it can’t get worse.” Because it’ll always gets worse.

    No crystal ball or special insight here - I had proposed in 2018 comments on various posts that the best time for MJM to resign would have been upon JB’s election or, at the latest, his inauguration.

    Even if he doesn’t resign, he should.

  21. - Flapdoodle - Monday, Jan 13, 20 @ 3:08 pm:

    ==When George Ryan was elected governor, I said his friends would damage him much more than his enemies. That eventually happened to Ryan and it’s clear to anyone with eyes that the same thing is happening to Madigan.==

    This is wisdom. A few decades ago, in an investigative-type job, we knew to work “outside in.” It’s when someone feels the need to tally up chits paid and owed that trouble starts. Usually those folks are on the margins, but sometimes there’s the guy trips over his own big ego, the tough guy who has to prove it once too many times. Like Mr. McLain, apparently.

    What a disgusting slimy — and for the rape victim, tragic — series of events.

  22. - Tom - Tuesday, Jan 14, 20 @ 7:27 am:

    Please try to tell me that Quinn didn’t know. And no focus is on what Quinn did at that time…. had an ethical governor acted appropriately… none of this would had occurred.

  23. - Da Big Bad Wolf - Tuesday, Jan 14, 20 @ 8:15 am:

    Tom since you obviously have proof Quinn knew shouldn’t you be talking to the ISP?

Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.

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