CHICAGO (CBS) -- An Illinois House committee investigating possible disciplinary action against Speaker Michael Madigan over his ties to the ComEd bribery scandal won't meet again until after the election, after its Democratic chairman accused Republicans of using the panel "as a stage for political theater."
"At every step of this process, our cooperation has been accompanied with the proviso that we will not allow this committee to be used as a stage for political theater – an admonishment our Republican colleagues appear to have taken more as a challenge than as a reflection of this committee's serious work," Rep. Emanuel "Chris" Welch said in a statement Tuesday afternoon. "The committee will meet again in person on November 5 in Springfield – without the backdrop of a political campaign."
Welch's decision not to hold further hearings comes one week after he declined to allow a vote on Republicans' request to issue subpoenas to compel Madigan and others to testify, calling their request premature.
On Tuesday, Welch said he is still "engaging in a thorough review of our subpoena power, so members of this committee can make a fully informed decision and set responsible precedent for years to come."
Republicans immediately pounced on Welch's decision to delay further hearings until after the election, accusing Welch of trying to protect Madigan and cover up the truth.
"Chairman Welch's decision is an utter insult to the people of Illinois who want and deserve the truth. Chairman Welch has now become Chairman Squelch," said Rep. Deanne Mazzochi (R-Elmhurst).
Mazzochi, one of three Republicans serving on the investigating committee, said it's clear that Welch is only interested in protecting Madigan.
"Chris Welch said that he was going to run a professional investigation. This is not how a professional runs an investigation. 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."
The committee was formed last month, when House Republican Leader Jim Durkin and two other Republicans filed a petition accusing Madigan of "conduct unbecoming to a legislator," weeks after federal prosecutors accused ComEd of a yearslong bribery scheme that sought to curry the speakers favor in advancing legislation relaxing state regulation of ComEd's rates by directing $1.3 million in payments to the speaker's associates. ComEd acknowledged it stood to benefit by more than $150 million from that legislation.
Durkin called Welch's decision to delay further hearings until after the election "a disgrace and a slap in the face to the Governor, the General Assembly and the citizens of Illinois."
"The U.S. Attorney has given the SIC authority to investigate, and Governor Pritzker has on numerous occasions urged the Speaker to testify on his role with ComEd's nine-year bribery scheme. Yet Rep. Welch refuses to do anything except hide the truth about the corruption of Speaker Madigan and the Democratic Party of Illinois," Durkin said in a statement. "This is just another example of Mike Madigan's double standard of the House Rules. The Rules of the House apply to all except him."
Madigan has not been charged with a crime, and has denied any wrongdoing. He also has called the committee "a political stunt" orchestrated by Durkin, and has declined to testify voluntarily.
Democrats and Republicans on the House Special Investigating Committee have been at odds since the very beginning of the committee's work, bickering over issues such as their interpretation of federal prosecutors' guidance on how to proceed without interfering with an ongoing federal probe, to whether or not to issue subpoenas to force Madigan and other potential witnesses to testify after they declined to do so voluntarily.
The committee has met only twice so far, and has heard from only one witness, ComEd executive David Glockner, who confirmed the state's largest electric utility made payments to Madigan associates in an effort to influence the speaker, but told lawmakers he could not say whether their efforts actually had any influence on Madigan, or whether he was even aware of them.
Earlier Tuesday, before Welch's announcement about the next hearing, Rep. Tom Demmer (R-Dixon) accused Welch of trying to delay the panel's efforts by requesting a "data dump" of documents from ComEd. Welch has sent ComEd lawyers a letter requesting all documents regarding its "lobbying and consultant hiring and oversight practices from 2010 to 2020," while Demmer sent a separate request seeking more limited documents regarding ComEd communications with Madigan and others relating to the facts contained in the deferred prosecution agreement.
Demmer said Welch's request would include information that has little or no connection to the committee's investigation, and they should instead be focused on the allegations in the deferred prosecution agreement with ComEd before going after a decade's worth of records from potentially hundreds of people.
"The charge of our committee is a very serious one, and it's one that I think we would take seriously and move expeditiously on if it were any other member of the House of Representatives who is indicated in the complaint. What appears to be happening right now is that special treatment has been given to Speaker Madigan, the subject of the complaint, because of the position he holds in the House of Representatives," Demmer said. "I don't think that many folks would assume that an investigating committee formed against a first-term member of the House of Representatives would proceed so slowly, or have so many roadblocks and delays that are placed in its way."
Welch, however, said his broader request for documents is necessary to get a more detailed understanding of ComEd's lobbying and consultant hiring and oversight practices.
"This information provides critical context for the committee's work," Welch said. "We cannot conduct a thorough investigation with blinders on; if we are to consider whether ComEd's admissions in the deferred prosecution agreement constitute conduct unbecoming of a lawmaker, we need to understand the full extent of ComEd's actions – including interactions with other elected officials instrumental to the passage of their legislation."
Welch also said the Republicans on the committee are "wearing two hats," and accused them of trying to use the process to benefit their reelection campaigns by constantly attacking the speaker.
"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," Welch said.
Until the committee's next hearing in November, Welch said he is reaching out to attorneys for former ComEd vice president Fidel Marquez to arrange for him to testify. Marquez pleaded guilty last week to his role in the ComEd bribery scheme, and is cooperating with federal investigators.
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