Melba Lara: Jurors in a Chicago federal bribery trial heard lots of testimony this week about how former Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan’s operation worked in Springfield. Four former ComEd executives and lobbyists are on trial for allegedly bribing Madigan to advance legislation that steered hundreds of millions more in profit to the power company. WBEZ's Dave McKinney has been covering the trial and joins us now, and Dave so much of this trial has been about Madigan even though he's not the one on trial here. His trial is scheduled for next year. What stood out to you from the trial this week about how Madigan worked in Springfield?
Dave McKinney: You know, Melba, I've covered Madigan since the mid 1990s, and I am learning new things about how he wielded power and rewarded his friends. I mean it was all stuff that was never in plain view the way it's been in this trial. One witness talked about how Madigan governed through fear and intimidation. We're also seeing how a certain lobbyist, ComEd's one time hired gun and defendant Michael McClain, had the speaker's ear like no one else. One witness described McClain as a double agent, because it was never clear whether he was representing the interests of his clients or of the speaker.
Melba Lara: And Dave, there was mentioned in the trial of a "magic list." Tell us about what the magic list is.
Dave McKinney: The magic list. That's a nickname or a code name. It was something that McClain used to refer to a list of favored lobbyists in Madigan's world. To get on that list, lobbyists had to be loyal to Madigan. They once worked for him, they did favors for him, they sent him campaign money. And in turn the magic list, lobbyists got more clients, big clients. We got a glimpse of the list when prosecutors played a secretly recorded phone call between McClain and Madigan fundraiser Victor Reyes. Reyes is preparing to drop off a big bundle of campaign cash for the former speaker. And it's clear Reyes is on the list.
Michael McClain: Tell Emily that this goes on the magic list.
Victor Reyes: “(laughter) I got it. I got it. (laughter)”
Dave McKinney: Now, we first reported on this magic list in 2019, but we learned this week that McLean himself kept it on a piece of hotel stationery.
Melba Lara: And, I saw the prosecutors even called one of Madigan's top aides to the stand. What insights did he provide?
Dave McKinney: Well, you’re referring to Will Cousineau. He was once one of Madigan’s senior-most aides but later became a lobbyist. He was testifying under a guarantee of immunity from prosecutors. Cousineau said McClain was a mentor to him. On this tape, we're about to hear, we heard McClain almost giving Cousineau paternal advice on the stresses of his new career as a lobbyist.
Michael McClain: As long as we always represent who our real client is, (yep) it’s not easy. It mollifies it.
Will Cousineau: Oh yeah, it’s easy to keep your priorities straight if you remember that.
Dave McKinney: That “main client,” of course, was Madigan. Cousineau outlined how McClain was on phone calls and email chains inside the speaker’s office, strategizing about pending ComEd legislation as if he were a staff member. No other lobbyist had that kind of access, and it was extremely valuable to ComEd.
Melba Lara: There was also testimony from ComEd's former top lawyer about pressure that he felt from defendants about rewarding Madigan's political allies. Tell us about that.
Dave McKinney: Well, that's right. Prosecutors had attorney Thomas O’Neill on the stand. He testified about how McClain and this other former ComEd lobbyist on trial, John Hooker, pressured him to find legal work for Reyes — that magic list guy that we talked about — even though there wasn’t enough work to do. And, how Madigan pushed for a political friend for ComEd’s board of directors. O’Neill recalled former ComEd CEO Anne Pramaggiore, another defendant in this trial, wading into all of this with one emphasis: What’s important to the speaker is important to ComEd.
Melba Lara: That's WBEZ state politics reporter Dave McKinney.
WBEZ transcripts are generated by an automatic speech recognition service. We do our best to edit for misspellings and typos, but mistakes do come through.