Melba Lara: You’re listening to WBEZ. Federal prosecutors are giving jurors a lesson in Illinois politics, as they make their case against four former Commonwealth Edison executives and lobbyists. The defendants are accused of bribing former House Speaker Michael Madigan in exchange for favorable legislation. WBEZ state politics reporter Dave McKinney covered week one of the trial. And he joins me now to explain what Illinois politics sounds like when people think the feds aren’t listening. Hi Dave.
Dave McKinney: Hey Melba.
Melba Lara: In this trial, the prosecutors are playing secretly recorded phone conversations between Madigan and his confidants. It's been fascinating to hear your reporting on all this. Tell us what it's been so noteworthy.
Dave McKinney: Well, I mean, Madigan was in office for 50 years and he was always regarded as very disciplined, very careful. And in public, he was the speaker who didn't often speak. Even though Madigan is not on trial here, he's been the main character. And Melba think about this, in what world does this really make sense? Madigan entrusted a ComEd lobbyist, Michael McClain, one of the defendant's here, to be his secretive emissary on utilities legislation and on matters involving the #MeToo movement. It just showed that if Madigan was Springfield's most powerful politician, then McClain was its most powerful lobbyist.
Melba Lara: And Dave, what's been the most interesting thing you've heard so far?
Dave McKinney: Prosecutors brought former state representative Lou Lang, a Skokie Democrat to the stand and played a series of recordings about Madigan's desire to force out Lang because of possible sexual harassment allegations. And rather than telling Lang himself to leave, Madigan used McClain. Here's Madigan and McClain on a wiretap that was played for jurors.
Michael McClain: So when do you want me to call Lang and just lower the boom on him, because he's not getting, he's not getting it. I mean, he understands it but he doesn't like hearing it. You know what I mean?
Michael Madigan: So, uh sooner rather than later.
Michael McClain: Okay, I'll do it.
Dave McKinney: You know, I saw McClain on the witness stand stone faced as the humiliating tapes were played, that showed how his 32 year political career got snuffed out.
Melba Lara: And Dave, why is that significant in the trial of Com Ed executives and lobbyists? What's the crime here?
Dave McKinney: Well, defense lawyers say there isn't a crime but what prosecutors are trying to show is that for Madigan, McClain was kind of like that Tom Hagan character Robert Duvall played in the Godfather. the speaker's consigliere. And as ComEd's lobbyist, McClain had access to Madigan that no one else did. In one tape that was played, McClain explains that neither Com d nor any of his other blue chip lobbying clients really mattered, that his only real priority was Madigan.
Michael McClain: My client is not ComEd. My client is not, my client is not Walgreens. My client is the Speaker. And once you come - not you - but once a lobbyist comes to peace that that's their client, it's a lot easier.
Dave McKinney: You know, that one admission alone, Melba on a government wiretap really pulls back the curtain on the unseemly way that Springfield worked under Madigan with McClain at his side.
Melba Lara: You know, David and I were talking, you've been covering Illinois politics for a long time and you've covered corruption trials before. How does this trial compare to those?
Dave McKinney: The Rod Blagojevich prosecution, we were talking about the illegal sale of a U.S. Senate seat. And George Ryan, it was all about how he illegally raised campaign money from his employees and the Secretary of State's office and family died in a horrible crash as a result of that. Here, we have a case that involves nearly four million ComEd ratepayers in Illinois. And that's really why people should care about this. Think about your electricity bill. That price that ComEd customers see is a direct result of how the company's ex brass allegedly greased the skids with Madigan to raise electricity rates.
Melba Lara: That's WBEZ's Dave McKinney bringing up to date on the case against four former Commonwealth Edison executives and lobbyists. Thanks, Dave.
Dave McKinney: Thanks Melba.
Melba Lara: This is WBEZ.
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