When asked if Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan should resign after federal prosecutors appeared to implicate him in a bribery scheme with ComEd, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot demurred, saying it wasn't her place to tell the powerful lawmaker what to do.
"Well, that's not really for me to say, and as mayor what I'm really focused on is the conduct of ComEd," Lightfoot said when asked at an unrelated news conference on Friday.
Prosecutors announced Friday morning that ComEd will pay $200 million as part of an agreement to resolve a federal criminal investigation into a scheme in which investigators say the utility company admitted to arranging jobs and payments for associates of an elected official, referred to only as “Public Official A," for nearly a decade.
In exchange for the fine and cooperation in the ongoing investigation, among other requirements, federal prosecutors will drop the bribery charge against the company in three years, according to the delayed prosecution agreement.
The court filing identifies that elected official as "Speaker of the Illinois House and the longest serving member of the House of Representatives," a description that seems only to fit Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan. A spokeswoman for Madigan issued a statement Friday afternoon on behalf of the state's most powerful lawmaker, denying any wrongdoing while confirming that he had been subpoenaed and would cooperate with the ongoing investigation.
When pressed on whether Madigan should resign - the question citing calls for then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich to step down when implicated as "Public Official A" in a separate investigation nearly 15 years earlier - Lightfoot repeated that it wasn't her place.
"Again, it's not for me as the mayor of the city to talk about whether or not the speaker of the General Assembly should or shouldn't take certain action," Lightfoot said. "As far as I know, there's not been any charges against him. But that really, that need not be the standard."
Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Friday called for Madigan to resign if the allegations against him were true, saying he was "deeply troubled."
"If these allegations of wrongdoing by the speaker are true, there is no question that he will have betrayed the public trust and he must resign therefore," Pritzker said. "The speaker has a lot that he needs to answer for: to authorities, to investigators and most importantly to the people of Illinois."
Reports of a sweeping federal probe into corruption in Illinois politics - including ComEd, Madigan and other prominent figures - have swirled for more than a year. Madigan is the longest-serving House speaker in U.S. history, having held the post for all but two years since 1983. He also chairs the state's Democratic Party, of which Lightfoot and Pritzker are both members.
"Since this story broke last year, I've consistently said that ComEd is going to have to come before the Chicago City Council and give account for its conduct," Lightfoot said.
"The deferred prosecution agreement that was filed earlier today lays out in great detail a factual basis of conduct on the part of ComEd that I think is concerning," she continued, noting that Chicago City Council's Environment and Energy Committee would be holding a hearing on July 30, during which she expected the chair to call ComEd officials to testify.
"We need to better understand beyond the four corners of the deferred prosecution agreement what happened and what's in place now to stop it," Lightfoot, a former federal prosecutor herself, said.
"In the midst of negotiating a franchise agreement with ComEd, we need to understand what their conduct has been and the commitments that they have made to the government and really to the city to make sure that we are doing business with an honest vendor," Lightfoot added.
Lightfoot said she wants the utility company - headquartered in Chicago and supplying power to roughly 70% of Illinois - to give "a full accounting of what their conduct was" and details on "safeguards and controls they have in place" to prevent similar incidents.
"There's been a tremendous turnover in the leadership from ComEd since these allegations came to light. And I think we have to understand that and we'll find out more at that July 30 hearing," Lightfoot said.
The CEO of Exelon, ComEd's parent company, confirmed in a statement on the agreement that the company no longer employed the people who "orchestrated this misconduct."
"We are committed to maintaining the highest standards of integrity and ethical behavior. In the past, some of ComEd’s lobbying practices and interactions with public officials did not live up to that commitment," Exelon CEO Christopher M. Crane said. "When we learned about the inappropriate conduct, we acted swiftly to investigate. We concluded from the investigation that a small number of senior ComEd employees and outside contractors orchestrated this misconduct, and they no longer work for the company. Since then, we have taken robust action to aggressively identify and address deficiencies, including enhancing our compliance governance and our lobbying policies to prevent this type of conduct. We apologize for the past conduct that didn’t live up to our own values, and we will ensure this cannot happen again.”
Lightfoot noted that while she wanted answers from ComEd, the possibility of cutting ties with the utility would be difficult.
"Essentially what that question is is: Can the Chicago city government take on the responsibility of generation and provision of electricity? That's an enormous and costly undertaking," she said. "We're in the midst of a study on that very issue and it will be finalized here shortly. But I don't take lightly the prospects of trying to run an electric utility that's not within our wheelhouse. But obviously, we initiated this study so we can look at what our options were, see what was realistic, and we'll wait for the study's results."
Lightfoot later released a statement calling ComEd's conduct as laid out in the deferred prosecution agreement "deeply disturbing."
"As a City, we are committed to ensuring that all Chicagoans can access high quality, reliable services at rates that are affordable for all our residents, particularly our most vulnerable," her statement reads in part, again calling on ComEd to testify before City Council.
"Chicagoans deserve fairness and transparency from all who are paid with taxpayer dollars, and my administration will do everything in our power to ensure that expectation is a reality."
Moments after twice sidestepping questions about her position on calls for Madigan to resign, Lightfoot took President Donald Trump to task in a heated commentary, continuing a months-long war of words that on Thursday saw her call the White House press secretary a "Karen."