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Feds OK Illinois lawmakers to investigate Madigan bribery scandal, but what can they do?

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Wednesday, September 16, 2020  |  Article  |  By Cole Lauterbach | The Center Square

Ethics, Campaign Reform, Transparency (12a) , Pay to Play, Corruption Madigan, Michael--State House, 22 , Smith, Derrick--State House, 10 , Welch, Emanuel "Chris"--State House, 7

(The Center Square) – Federal prosecutors gave Illinois lawmakers the green light to perform an independent investigation into long-time House Speaker Michael Madigan, committee members said, but Democrats and Republicans disagree on what it means for the investigation. 

The Illinois House of Representatives will continue its proceedings after U.S. Attorney John Lausch Jr. told the House Special Investigation Committee that it would be allowed to move forward as long as it doesn't jeopardize his ongoing probe into ComEd and the company's patronage and bribery scheme aimed at currying favor with Madigan. 

The speaker has not been charged with a crime and has denied wrongdoing. Madigan was implicated in ComEd’s deferred prosecution agreement

The committee’s chairman, state Rep. Chris Welch, D-Hillside, said Tuesday that the committee plans to continue but its actions will be limited.

“The U.S. Attorney made it clear we could seek testimony from whoever we choose; however, they requested we refrain from seeking any materials or testimony related to the [deferred prosecution agreement] that is still confidential or anything in the possession of the federal government. In other words, we can call witnesses, but we can’t really ask them any questions,” he said in a statement.  

Welch said he was disappointed that information from his and state Rep. Tom Demmer’s, R-Dixon, conversation with Lausch was made public prematurely. 

“We wouldn’t be engaged in this he/say she/say conversation if Demmer had not jumped the gun to put out his false narrative,” Welch said. “But once again my Republican colleagues have disrespected the process for political gain.”

Demmer did not respond to a call about Welch’s comments, but told WBEZ that Lausch’s comments to him and Welch cleared a path for Madigan to be called to testify before the committee. 

House Republicans made it clear they’d like to interrogate Madigan ally and former ComEd lobbyist Michael McLain, former City Club of Chicago CEO Jay Doherty and others connected to the probe. 

The investigative committee is a political function that’s more akin to a fact-finding mission. Should they vote to move forward, the matter is turned over to another committee of lawmakers who will deliberate what Welch’s group found and mete out punishment. 

The only other time the procedure has been used in Illinois history was in a 2012 probe about bribery allegations against Rep. Derrick Smith, D-Chicago.