Illinois Department of Agriculture Secretary John Sullivan resigned Monday at the request of Gov. J.B. Pritzker over a 2012 email in which former top lobbyist Mike McClain advocated for a state employee by saying he "kept his mouth shut" on an unspecified rape.
In a statement, the governor's office said Gov. Pritzker was "disturbed" that Sullivan, then a state senator, became aware of the existence of the email and did not handle it appropriately, failing to notify both the inspector general and authorities.
WBEZ reported Tuesday that McClain, a former state representative and powerful Springfield lobbyist who is a close associated of House Speaker Michael Madigan, 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.
"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."
In a statement, Sullivan said he simply didn't read the forwarded email, citing 2012 as a stressful time due to his reelection campaign and having cancer surgery.
Madigan on Thursday rejected the request for a House investigation into the email, saying the investigation should be handled without interference by the General Assembly due to the sensitivity of the matter for any potential survivors.
Madigan previously denied having any knowledge of the email or the incidents it referenced.
The Illinois Republican Party issued a statement in wake of Sullivan's resignation calling for a House investigation into the email scandal.
"Today’s news begs additional questions: Who else knew about the “rape in Champaign”? When did they find out? Why didn’t they do anything? These questions deserve answers..." Chairman Tim Schneider said in a statement.
Illinois Senate President John Cullerton said he can't imagine Madigan being involved in the scandal and doesn't believe a House investigation is the correct course.
"It's a crime," he said. "You're talking about crimes... rape, ghost payrolling, so it's something that should be investigated by people who do criminal investigations. Really the legislature is not the area to thrust this out."