* Background is here if you need it. Rachel Hinton at the Sun-Times…
Federal prosecutors gave the state House committee investigating Speaker Michael Madigan’s dealings with ComEd the “green light” to proceed on Thursday — but not without flashing a cautionary yellow light.
U.S. Attorney John Lausch wrote to the top state representatives on the panel — Democratic chair Emanuel “Chris” Welch of Hillside and Republican Tom Demmer of Dixon, telling them his office did not “have a general objection” to the House Special Investigative Committee seeking documents or testimony related to the federal probe of the utility company during the course of its proceedings.
But Lausch also set some parameters. The six-member panel can’t ask witnesses about their participation in grand jury proceedings or request they produce materials disclosing grand jury activity.
In the letter released by Republicans, Lausch also objected to the committee asking witnesses about any contact they’ve had with prosecutors or federal law enforcement related to the criminal investigation into the utility or to share information learned from the feds during the investigation.
And, should the committee steer too close to his own ongoing investigation into ComEd, Lausch said his office “might raise objections to particular testimony or document requests” as the two parallel probes go forward. Lausch said he was not currently raising that objection.
* Peter Hancock at Capitol News Illinois…
The Special Investigating Committee was formed after House Republican Leader Jim Durkin, of Western Springs, and two other Republican House members filed a petition Aug. 31 to commence disciplinary proceedings against Madigan, a Chicago Democrat and the longest-serving state legislative speaker in U.S. history.
Madigan was implicated in a bribery scheme when ComEd officials entered a deferred prosecution agreement with Lausch’s office in which they admitted that, from 2011 through 2019, they awarded no-work jobs and lobbying contracts to close associates of Madigan in an effort to win his favor for legislation that benefitted the company.
Madigan so far has not been charged with any crime and has staunchly denied any wrongdoing.
The legislative probe, however, is not focused on whether he committed a crime, but whether he “engaged in conduct which is unbecoming to a legislator or which constitutes a breach of public trust.” If his fellow lawmakers find that he did, disciplinary action could range from a reprimand or censure to expulsion from the House.
* Jamie Munks at the Tribune…
The partisan jockeying continued after Lausch’s letter came out Thursday. Welch issued a statement that said the letter “confirms our understanding that while this committee can call individuals to voluntarily appear, they would be limited in what they can discuss.” […]
“We also see clearly that Republican members of this committee attempted to go beyond what has originally been discussed with the U.S. attorney,” Welch said, adding that he won’t allow it to be “used as a stage for political theater.”
Ron Safer, the attorney representing Durkin through the process, said in a statement that Lausch’s office gave the testimony “the green light to pursue all avenues of the investigation, including testimony and documents, that were articulated in the petition.”
The six-person special investigating committee has an equal number of Democrats and Republicans. Authorizing a charge against Madigan would require a majority vote.
* Tony Arnold at WBEZ…
But there remain very different — and partisan — takeaways from Lausch’s guidance that will affect the tenacity with which the House panel will conduct its investigation into Madigan, who also chairs the state’s Democratic Party. The committee is evenly split between three Democrats and three Republicans.
State Rep. Chris Welch, D-Hillside, chairs the House panel and has accused Republicans of “using the committee as a political stunt.”
“Lausch’s letter today confirms our understanding that while this committee can call individuals to voluntarily appear, they would be limited in what they can discuss,” Welch said in a statement. “In particular, information underlying the deferred prosecution agreement beyond what is already public could be met with objection by federal investigators, and any further information collected by the federal government that informed that agreement is explicitly off limits.”
But that appears to contradict what Lausch wrote in his own letter Thursday.
“[If] a witness explained certain facts to prosecutors or federal law enforcement agents, we do not object generally to the witness explaining those same facts to the [committee],” he wrote. “We object, however, to questions about whether the witness shared those (or any other) facts with prosecutors or federal law enforcement agents, as such questions could reveal confidential information about the course of our investigation and could deter cooperation with our investigation by that witness and others.”
* Mark Maxwell at WCIA…
However, Lausch’s letter never stated that witnesses could not repeat the facts of their testimony or their recollection of events, only that they could not reveal whether or not they had already shared that same information with federal investigators, and also could not reveal what information federal investigators may have shared with them.
“We do not object generally to the witness explaining those same facts to the SIC,” Lausch wrote. “We object, however, to questions about whether the witness shared those (or any other) facts with prosecutors or federal law enforcement agents, as such questions could reveal confidential information about the course of our investigation and could deter cooperation with our investigation by that witness and others.”
After Lausch clarified his position in a letter on Thursday, Rep. Grant Wehrli (R-Naperville), who sits on the committee, said, “This is exactly how we interpreted the phone call. It is clear we can call witnesses and have testimony regarding the [deferred prosecution agreement]. The things [Lausch] requested we not ask about are things we have no intention of asking about.”
House Republicans said they intend to call Madigan, former ComEd lobbyists Mike McClain, Fidel Marquez, John Hooker, Jay Doherty, Michael Zalewski, and former ComEd CEO Anne Prammagiore to testify before the committee.