Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan rebuffed a call by his Republican counterpart to convene a special House committee to investigate an alleged “disturbing criminal cover-up and shocking illegal activity” detailed in an email written by one of Madigan’s top confidants.
A recent investigation from WBEZ uncovered a 2012 email written by retired lobbyist Mike McClain, who has been close with Madigan since they served together in the House in the ‘70s.
In it, McClain wrote to two of then-Gov. Pat Quinn’s top aides, Jerry Stermer and Gary Hannig, to request the Quinn administration be merciful to a state employee, Forrest Ashby, who was from McClain’s home town of Quincy.
McClain argued in the email that the worker deserved lenient treatment because he’d “kept his mouth shut on Jones’ ghost workers, the rape in Champaign and other items.”
It’s unclear what exactly McClain was referring to, though former Illinois Senate President Emil Jones’ wife Lorrie Rickman Jones had been a high-ranking administrator for a state agency that had employed Ashby.
House Republican Leader Jim Durkin wants a special House committee convened to look into the matter, writing in a letter to Madigan that the chamber has an “inherent responsibility to perform an independent inquiry” given the “seriousness of the allegations.”
Durkin told WTTW News: “I’ve heard a lot of outrage by the Democrats, a lot of this passive outrage which I continue to hear from the house Democrats. Time to do something a little bit more. Instead of saying somebody needs to look into it, we should look into it.”
Madigan on Thursday responded with a letter of his own to Durkin, in which he wrote that “recognizing the sensitivity of the matter for any potential survivors, any investigation should be handled by the appropriate investigative entities without interference by the General Assembly.”
The email is the latest scandal involving McClain that’s put heat on Madigan; WBEZ in November obtained another email from McClain, this one written to a “Magic Lobbyist List,” that obliquely references Madigan as a “Friend of ours” who had worked with McClain to cull the list of favorites. The Chicago Tribune also reported that in May, FBI agents raided McClain’s home – one of various raids that’s part of a wide-ranging corruption probe.
Madigan on Wednesday issued a statement that said he was unaware of the rape mentioned in McClain’s 2012 email.
“These are extremely serious and troubling allegations. I had no knowledge of the incident referenced in the story and only learned of this today. I encourage those with any information to come forward,” the statement reads.
Throughout the cascade of controversy, Gov. J.B. Pritzker has pointedly sidestepped, taking a strong stance on Madigan’s leadership, including Madigan’s role as chair of the Democratic Party of Illinois.
When asked by reporters Thursday whether Madigan should resign his party position, Pritzker said, “Let’s start with getting all of the facts.”
Pritzker said upon discovering the email, his office sent it to the Office of Executive Inspector General.
“There are two crimes that are discussed in this email. One is rape and the other one is ghost payrolling. So I think all of us want to know what are they referring to, ‘cause I don’t think it’s clear yet what circumstances are being referred to in this email,” he said. “In order to get the answers we’ve got to do an investigation.”
Pritzker said the inspector general, not the legislature, is the appropriate body to do that.
Rep. Kelly Cassidy, D-Chicago, has at times been openly critical of Madigan, but she said he’s not her focus now.
“Let’s take a moment, think about the people that are involved in this and worry about them first. There’s plenty of time for politics later,” she said. “I am imploring everyone to just take a step back. Take a breath. He (Madigan) has been here most of my lifetime. You got time. Let’s take care of this victim first.”
Cassidy said if there was in fact a rape, that means there is a person who may have had an act of violence committed against them who is reliving that trauma every time it’s referenced.
“We don’t know are we talking about an adult or a child? Are we talking about something that really happened at all. What we are talking about is three incredibly powerful men who seemed to act on it and chosen not to act on it,” she said. “I don’t know that the House of Representatives is the appropriate venue for a criminal investigation of any kind.”
Durkin said he will continue to push for a House committee to investigate the situation, writing in a memo to Republican representatives: “We live in a world of ‘firsts’ and this is the first time I have seen Speaker Madigan abdicate his position and hide behind any Governor. Please know that we will continue to fight to investigate this disturbing revelation and will do everything we can to restore pride in State government.”
The Senate’s Republican leader on Thursday called for the Illinois State Police to get involved.
“You are the lead law enforcement officer in the state of Illinois, and I believe the people of Illinois, the victim, and the seriousness of this issue demands that your agency conduct a full and thorough investigation,” Senate Minority Leader Jim Brady wrote in a letter to ISP Director Brendan Kelly.
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