Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan on Thursday rejected a request for a House investigation into a 2012 email that surfaced earlier in the week, in which a close associate of Madigan advocated for a state employee by saying he "kept his mouth shut" on an unspecified rape.
The request came from House Republican Leader Jim Durkin, who asked in a letter to the speaker that a House committee convene to investigate the email from Michael McClain, a former state representative and powerful Springfield lobbyist who is a longtime friend of Madigan.
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.
"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."
"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 on Thursday, rejecting his request. "These allegations are extremely troubling and I urge anyone with information to contact the appropriate authorities."
Madigan previously denied having any knowledge of the email or the incidents it referenced.
"These are extremely serious and troubling allegations," Madigan said in a statement on Wednesday. "I had no knowledge of the incident referenced in the story and only learned of this today. I encourage those with any information to come forward."
McClain and Madigan's relationship dates back to their days serving together in the legislature in the 1970s. McClain has emerged as a key figure in an ongoing widespread federal probe into political corruption in Illinois, with investigators 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.
In his letter to Durkin on Thursday, Madigan said he spoke with Gov. JB Pritzker, who he relayed had "confirmed the matter was referred to the appropriate authorities."
Earlier in the day, Pritzker said that he had not talked to Madigan about the email, but that his office had contacted the office of the executive inspector general to "determine if this should go to law enforcement or where and who's actually involved."
"The subject of this email is horrific," Pritzker said, when asked about it at an unrelated news conference. "You can't read this email and not see a lot of things wrong. Number one, there are two crimes that are discussed in this email. One is rape and the other one is ghost pay-rolling. And so I think all of us want to know: what are they referring to? Because I don't think it's clear yet what circumstances are being referred to in this email."
WBEZ reported Tuesday 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.
"This is a consultant, I mean we had 200 people doing field work on our campaign that were hired by our field staff to do field work around the state," Pritzker said. "What I want to know is, what is the rape that's being alleged here? What exactly are the circumstances around that? Is there a cover-up that was done around that and secondly what is this ghost pay-rolling reference to? Was there wrongdoing associated with that? Who's responsible?"
But when asked specifically if he had personally spoken with any of the people involved, Pritzker said he had not discussed the issue with Madigan.
"What I know is the statement that was put out yesterday in which he says that he doesn't know anything about it," Pritzker said.
"I think it just came out a couple of days ago. I don't think he's even in the state of Illinois," he continued, when pressed on the issue, adding, "It's not his email."
Pritzker repeatedly said his office does not have investigatory capabilities, which is why he referred the matter to the OEIG.
"I wouldn't know how to investigate this matter. What do you mean, I should just run around and just randomly ask questions?" he said, when asked why he had not discussed the issue with the speaker.
The reported email drew widespread condemnation in Illinois' political circles, with several lawmakers calling for an investigation into the matter.