Federal prosecutors behind the Commonwealth Edison bribery probe signed off Monday on allowing a legislative committee to call witnesses as it investigates whether the utility and Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan engaged in any wrongdoing together.
Two members of the committee, state Rep. Emanuel “Chris” Welch, D-Hillside, and Rep. Tom Demmer, R-Dixon, confirmed that was the message conveyed to them Monday in a phone call with U.S. Attorney John Lausch, who is heading the criminal investigation into ComEd’s prolific Springfield lobbying operation.
But that point from the conversation appears to be about the only one Democrats and Republicans on the special committee investigating Madigan agree on, throwing the future of the probe into question.
Welch, the committee’s chairman, told WBEZ that Lausch was careful to ask that the panel not stray into “materials or testimony” that is “still confidential” or “in the possession of the federal government” related to a deal between the feds and ComEd to defer prosecution for three years.
ComEd’s deferred prosecution agreement describes Public Official A as “the Speaker of the Illinois House of Representatives and the longest serving member of the House of Representatives.” Even though Madigan is the sole person that description applies to, Madigan’s name appears nowhere in the document.
“In other words, we can call witnesses, but we can’t really ask them any questions,” Welch told WBEZ.
Welch also lashed out at Republicans on the committee, accusing them of leaking details of Monday’s conversation with Lausch. Welch said he had intended to memorialize the conversation in a memo and make it public but got preempted.
“How anyone even found out about the fact that we even had the call [Monday] only tells me that someone’s trying to score political points,” Welch said. “I think the GOP realized that the U.S. attorney said what he said and that we were not gonna be able to get documents and information that they’re seeking. And so they jumped the gun. They’re trying to score political points. They know exactly what he said and they only shared parts of the story.”
Last week, Republicans made clear their desire to call a bevy of witnesses referred to directly or indirectly by the federal deferred prosecution agreement, including Madigan; the speaker’s longtime friend and former ComEd lobbyist, Michael McClain; former City Club of Chicago CEO Jay Doherty and past and current ComEd executives.
Demmer, however, said Lausch’s instructions open the door for Madigan himself to be called before the legislative panel, which was convened after Republicans pushed for its creation.
“Members of the committee and other elected officials in Illinois have suggested that this special investigative committee might be a forum in which [Madigan] could provide some sought-after answers,” Demmer said. “And so, the indication [Monday] that there is no objection by the U.S. attorney to us calling Speaker Madigan for a testimony … helps clear the path to getting some of those answers.”
Madigan has denied any wrongdoing. ComEd has acknowledged it steered company jobs and contracts to associates of the speaker in order to advance its Springfield agenda between 2011 and last year.
A spokesman for Lausch did not respond to a voicemail late Monday.
The committee has not scheduled its next hearing date, but Demmer predicted it could come as early as next week.