The two major party candidates for Illinois attorney general are split on whether they’d continue a criminal probe into 14 Legionnaires’ disease-related deaths at a state-run veterans’ home.
Earlier this month, Attorney General Lisa Madigan announced she’d opened a criminal probe into the tragedy at the Illinois Veterans Home, and her lawyers advanced that cause on Thursday by appearing before a grand jury in Quincy.
But Madigan’s term ends in early January, and she’ll likely be succeeded either by Democratic state Sen. Kwame Raoul, of Chicago, or Republican lawyer Erika Harold, from Urbana. It’ll be up to one of them to decide whether to keep the probe going if it’s not concluded by then.
On Friday, Harold told WBEZ she would not commit to pursuing any cases of possible wrongdoing against anyone in Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner’s administration for the way they handled outbreaks at the home in 2015, 2016, and 2017. There was another cluster of cases in February.
State campaign records show Harold has accepted $1.8 million in campaign contributions this year from the political fund of Rauner, who has derided Madigan’s investigation as a political ploy.
“I can’t say what my intentions would be because the attorney general’s office hasn’t said who the target is, what type of evidence they may have, and what type of statutes they’re investigating,” she said.
Madigan, a Democrat, says a focus of her probe is whether state officials did not properly notify residents, their families, or the public about Legionnaires’ cases at the facility.
WBEZ has reported state officials waited six days in 2015 to publicize the Legionnaires’ outbreak at the facility, a delay one infectious-disease expert characterized as “mind-boggling.” Rauner’s communications office played a role in that delay, and his administration took weeks and sometimes months in later outbreaks to divulge Legionnaires’ cases to the public, WBEZ has found.
But Harold said she has not seen any evidence of criminal wrongdoing in what has been disclosed publicly about the outbreaks by WBEZ and other media outlets. And she raised questions about the timing of Madigan’s announcement that she was investigating the Rauner administration’s handling of the outbreaks.
It came on the same day this month that Rauner and Democrat JB Pritzker held their third and final televised debate of the campaign season in Quincy.
“I thought the timing of disclosing the existence of the criminal probe seemed to be politicized because it occurred a couple of hours before the debate,” she said. “And I think timing disclosures like that undermines people’s confidence in the investigation itself because people might suspect that it could be politically motivated.”
Madigan’s office has denied any political underpinning to the announcement. The attorney general has not endorsed Pritzker in the campaign for governor.
Raoul, meanwhile, said he believes an investigation is warranted.
State campaign records show Raoul has accepted $2.9 million this year from the political fund of Pritzker, who repeatedly has slammed Rauner for “fatal mismanagement” at the Quincy home that houses nearly 400 veterans.
“I trust in Attorney General Madigan’s judgment. I do not know all of the evidence that led to them empaneling the grand jury specifically in this case so I cannot weigh in on that. What I do know is what happened in Quincy is unconscionable. I do know the attempt to cover it up was unconscionable,” he said.
Pressed on whether he would keep the probe going if he wins Nov. 6 and it’s not finished when Madigan leaves in January, Raoul said, “I would expect so because it started, and part of a grand jury is to investigate and to make a determination once evidence is accumulated.”
Libertarian Bubba Harsy is also on the ballot for attorney general.
In the interest of transparency, Chicago Public Media (CPM) reminds its audience that we receive philanthropic support from The Pritzker Foundation. JB Pritzker, who is a candidate for Illinois governor, is not involved in The Pritzker Foundation and does not contribute to it. He and his wife lead a separate philanthropic foundation, the Pritzker Family Foundation, from which CPM has never received any funding.