A House committee investigating Speaker Michael Madigan’s conduct kicked off its business in earnest Tuesday and almost immediately exposed its strong partisan divisions.
Before taking testimony from a Commonwealth Edison executive, the committee spent nearly an hour arguing over whether House Republican Leader Jim Durkin of Western Springs would be allowed to give an opening statement. Durkin wanted to deliver the statement and also to be allowed to question witnesses.
Rep. Emanuel Welch, D-Hillside, chair of the House Special Investigating Committee II, had said Durkin could not deliver an opening statement because he was one of the Republican lawmakers who signed a petition that forced creation of the committee.
The committee is going to determine if Madigan acted in a manner unbecoming to a state legislator and should be disciplined.
Welch said House rules prohibit a petition signer from also serving on the committee and only committee members can question witnesses. Consequently, since Durkin was not a member of the committee, he was not eligible to make a statement.
Durkin previously said he would show up at the hearing and give his statement anyway. After much back and forth debate by the six members of the committee, an agreement was reached to allow Durkin to deliver an opening statement, but not to question witnesses.
Much of Durkin’s statement repeated information contained in a deferred prosecution agreement between federal prosecutors and Commonwealth Edison. The utility giant agreed to pay a $200 million fine because it said it gave contracts and jobs to Madigan associates in order to gain favor with the speaker. The utility has pleaded not guilty to a single charge of bribery in connection with the federal investigation.
Durkin said that to refute the admissions made by Com Ed in the agreement a person "would have to believe that Michael Madigan didn’t know what was going on around him."
Durkin said anyone who knows Madigan knows that is extremely unlikely.
Once Durkin was finished, Welch thanked him and said he looks forward to Durkin returning in the future and testifying under oath. Welch has suggested Durkin be called as a witness because he helped pass legislation that was beneficial to Commonwealth Edison. The legislation is mentioned in the deferred prosecution agreement.
Partisan disagreements flared again at the end of the hearing when Republicans wanted to issue subpoenas to six individuals, including Madigan. All of them were on a list of people Republicans wanted to testify before the committee.
Letters were sent to all of them asking them to participate in the hearings and all of them, including Madigan, declined. Madigan sent a lengthy letter saying it would be inappropriate for him to appear while federal authorities are continuing their investigation. He also repeated his assertion that he thinks the investigation is a "political stunt" by Republicans.
Welch said it is premature for the committee to issue subpoenas and unilaterally decreed the Republican request was out of order.
"I think when it comes to subpoena prudence is required," Welch said.
Republicans complained that the committee couldn’t really complete its investigation without forcing the witnesses to appear. They also said the issue should have been put to a vote, even though the likely outcome was a deadlock. The committee is evenly split between Republicans and Democrats.
Welch recessed the hearing with no date set for another meeting.
Sandwiched in between those disputes was testimony from a Commonwealth Edison executive. David Glockner, executive vice-president for compliance and audit at Commonwealth Edison, testified even though he only joined the company in March, long after most of the allegations in the deferred prosecution agreement took place.
Republican lawmakers spent hours grilling him about what was contained in the agreement and what some details meant. Glockner replied when he could and sometimes said the question was outside of the scope of his knowledge or was allowed to say under conditions set by federal prosecutors.
Federal authorities did not object to the hearing taking place, but said some issues should not be discussed at it.
Under questioning from Welch, Glockner agreed that nothing in the agreement indicated that Madigan had personal knowledge of a scheme to win his favor by rewarding his associates with jobs and contracts.
"The deferred prosecution agreement does not establish personal knowledge by Mr. Madigan," Glockner said.
Later, Glockner said he couldn’t comment on the effects of Com Ed’s efforts.
"Com Ed acknowledges repeatedly through the agreement that it believed or intended to influence the speaker through its conduct," Glockner said. "Whether it in fact influenced the speaker, whether the speaker was aware of its intent to influence, those are questions that I don’t think I’m in a position to comment on."
Contact Doug Finke: firstname.lastname@example.org, 788-1527, twitter.com/dougfinkesjr.