In his first public remarks since his email surfaced asking for leniency for a state employee who "kept his mouth shut" on an unspecified rape, an embattled Illinois lobbyist told WBEZ on Thursday that he had been contacted by federal authorities investigating corruption and admitted that it would be "hard to betray" himself.
WBEZ reporters on Thursday asked several questions of Michael McClain, a former state representative and longtime associate of powerful House Speaker Michael Madigan, getting him on camera for the first time since it was reported that he is a central figure in a widespread federal probe into corruption in Illinois.
"You feel isolated. It's not Christmas, I mean, it's been a grueling experience," McClain said, when asked how it feels to be part of the investigation.
When WBEZ reporters asked if federal authorities had asked him to cooperate with the investigation, McClain confirmed.
"They've asked," he said. When questioned as to whether he was entertaining the idea, he responded, "I'll just say they asked."
When the WBEZ reporter suggested it would be "hard to betray someone like Mike Madigan," McClain said, "It'd be hard to betray myself," before ending the conversation.
WBEZ reported that he declined to comment on the email and its allegations.
McClain and Madigan's relationship dates back to their days serving together in the legislature in the 1970s. Investigators are reportedly focused in part on his lobbying work for electric utility company ComEd. McClain announced his retirement from lobbying in 2016, though WBEZ reported in November that ComEd continued to pay him hundreds of thousands of dollars over the following two years.
McClain's home in Quincy was raided in May and The Chicago Tribune has reported that federal agents have also recorded conversations on his phone. Neither Madigan - who heads the Democratic Party of Illinois - nor McClain have been charged with any criminal wrongdoing.
WBEZ reported Tuesday that in 2012, McClain emailed two staffers in then-Gov. Pat Quinn's office to ask for leniency for a state worker scheduled to appear at a disciplinary hearing - setting off a firestorm of controversy.
"This man is a good compliance person, as I told you," McClain reportedly wrote in the email, which WBEZ said was obtained through an open-records request. "He has kept his mouth shut on Jones’ ghost workers, the rape in Champaign and other items. He is loyal to the Administration."
The reported email drew widespread condemnation in Illinois' political circles, with several lawmakers calling for an investigation into the matter. Gov. J.B. Pritzker said Thursday that the matter had been referred to the officer of the executive inspector general for further review.
WBEZ reported that the person McClain was discussing in the email was a state employee who, once he left state government in 2018, was hired as a political consultant to Pritzker's campaign for governor on McClain's recommendation - a connection Pritzker downplayed Thursday, calling the email "horrific."
The same day, Madigan - who had previously denied any knowledge of the email or the incidents it referenced - rejected a separate request from House GOP Leader Jim Durkin for a House investigation into the email and its allegations.
"Recognizing the sensitivity of the matter for any potential survivors, any investigation should be handled by the appropriate investigative entities without interference by the General Assembly," Madigan wrote in a letter to Durkin. "These allegations are extremely troubling and I urge anyone with information to contact the appropriate authorities."
Republican U.S. Reps. Darin LaHood, Rodney Davis, John Shimkus, Adam Kinzinger and Mike Bost released a joint statement Friday calling on Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul, a Democrat, to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate the alleged rape and cover-up.
"We are very concerned that the Champaign County State’s Attorney has determined she will not investigate this alleged crime," the downstate coalition's statement reads. "If these disturbing allegations, that were revealed this week, are true there’s a victim out there that deserves justice and a criminal that should be prosecuted. Given the unwillingness of the local state’s attorney to investigate this alleged crime and ties to the governor’s campaign, we believe a special prosecutor is warranted."
Initially the state's attorney in Champaign said she was unwilling to investigate the allegations, but on Friday said she spoke with Raoul's office and promised to assist in the inspector general's investigation.