It’s ain’t over till it’s over. But the great investigation — AKA the grand inquisition — has pretty much run its course.
There was considerable hyperpartisan noise and hand-wringing. But just one major witness was called before the chairman of the Illinois House committee investigating Speaker Michael Madigan’s role in the Commonwealth Edison bribery scandal Tuesday announced a halt to the proceedings.
Well, not a complete halt, just a suspension of activities until after the Nov. 3 election.
That’s one way to try to keep Madigan’s name out of the news he’s dominated since late July.
That’s when the feds alleged that Madigan played the role of ringleader in a bribery scandal in which ComEd showered his friends and associates with
$1.3 million in cash in exchange for Madigan looking favorably on utility-favored legislation.
It was a great deal —
ComEd reportedly picked up
$150 million in additional revenue — until it wasn’t — when the feds came nosing around and ended the mutually-beneficial arrangement.
ComEd has confessed and agreed to pay a $200 million fine. A former top ComEd executive recently pleaded guilty to bribery conspiracy and promised to tell all he knows.
Others soon will be convicted in the probe even as Madigan insists that he never did — and never would — break the law.
But convictions are not
the point in Springfield. Elections are.
Rep. Emanuel Welch, a Chicago-area Democrat and strong Madigan supporter, pulled the plug on the House’s Madigan probe after becoming concerned that Republicans were making a little too much hay out of it.
“Our Republican colleagues are wearing two hats,” he said.
“While sitting on a committee that is charged with conducting an impartial investigation based on the petition filed by Leader Durkin, the Republican members of this committee are also engaged in competitive political campaigns in which they have chosen to campaign almost exclusively against the speaker,” he said.
Apparently shocked to discover politics intermingled with politics, Welch said the “committee will meet again on Nov. 5 in Springfield without the backdrop of a political campaign.”
Republicans, naturally, professed to be scandalized that Welch would make such the obviously partisan decision to interrupt their obviously partisan Madigan probe.
Since they no longer can make noise about Madigan and ComEd, they decided to make as much noise as they could about Welch suspending the probe into Madigan and ComEd.
The three GOP committee members competed with each other to see who could most feverishly denounce Welch.
Rep. Deanne Mazzochi of Elmhurst charged that Welch is only interested in protecting Madigan.
“This is how a political professional covers up the truth and crushes an investigation,” she said. “Chris Welch is a coward. He does not have the resolve to have Mike Madigan come before our committee, and actually answer those questions, blocking the right of voters to know.”
That charge, of course, is unfair and inaccurate.
The GOP is attacking a bevy of Democratic House candidates on the Madigan issue, so Welch clearly isn’t trying to just protect Madigan alone.
In addition, Madigan never was and never is going to answer questions before the committee.
He said so in a letter that included a declaration of total innocence.
However titillating some of the testimony was, this investigation has always been about exploiting Madigan’s serious ComEd legal issues for Republican gains at the polls.
It was perfectly legitimate for House Republican Leader Jim Durkin to call for the investigation, essentially daring Democrats to block it and take public-relations heat for doing so.
But the Democrats, led by Madigan, aren’t dummies.
They went through some of the motions before declaring the proceedings a partisan farce and calling a halt to them before the election.
After the election, of course, the investigation committee will be irrelevant because the elections the GOP hoped to influence through the investigation will be history.
But it hardly matters.
This was just one probe, and a minor one at that.
The real action — the pending criminal investigation — remains ongoing in the Chicago U.S. Attorney’s office, and Madigan’s reach doesn’t extend that far.